Football News

‘He does things I don’t like’ – France boss Didier Deschamps explains lack of minutes for William Saliba

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 18:30, 26 March 2024

Didier Deschamps has explained why Arsenal central defender William Saliba is struggling to get regular game time for the French national team.

The 23-year-old is a guaranteed starter under Mikel Arteta, but that luxury hasn’t been afforded him internationally. Since debuting against Ivory Coast in March 2022, he’s accumulated 11 more caps while completing the full 90 minutes on five occasions.

Competition for central defensive places in the current Les Bleus set-up offers one explanation, but the 2018 World Cup-winning coach feels there’s more to just others ahead of him in the cue.

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“He is having a good season, but he also does things that I don’t like so much,” he told reporters ahead of France’s international friendly with Chile.

“For France, he has limited game time, but when he plays, that hasn’t necessarily gone well. The hierarchy doesn’t favour him at the moment, but he is here. [Dayot] Upamecano has had game time, and perhaps William has had less.

“With certain players, I make sure to persevere because it can be confidence or little blockages that can shift. Some don’t have any concerns, some need game time. William has had less game time, so that doesn’t allow him to be very calm.”

As mentioned, Saliba is a mainstay in the Gunners’ lineup; since relocating from Saint-Étienne, he’s made 71 appearances in all competitions. A back injury sustained a year ago proved to be a costly blow as Arsenal surrended a Premier League to eventual champions Manchester City.

“Last year, I had a good season. Unfortunately, I got injured during the year, in the final sprint. It’s clear that I was a little disappointed, but there you go. It’s a new season with new ambitions. I hope we will do better,” he told Telefoot earlier this season. “It’s clear that with me, Arsenal could have been champions. But now, injuries are part of football, and we are focused on this season.”

Arsenal would play 11 games without him, winning five (including against Wolves on the final day when the championship had been decided); critically, they squandered back-to-back two-goal leads against Liverpool and West Ham on the road.

His central defensive partnership with Gabriel was the cornerstone behind the Gunners’ transformation from contenders to challengers. In that 2022/23 campaign, they lost just three of the 27 games that Saliba and Gabriel started together, winning 21 of those (78%). That win percentage dropped to 33% when Rob Holding and Gabriel were partners.

It’s been the same again this season. The pair have started 24 Premier League games together this season, which, along with Everton’s James Tarkowski and Jarrad Branthwaite, is the most of any centre-back partnership.

When they have been on the pitch together, Arteta’s side have conceded just 0.76 expected goals per game—the lowest rate of any centre-back partnership in the league—while keeping more clean sheets (nine) and conceding the joint-fewest shots per 90 minutes (0.9).

“When you look at how he’s developing, his role in the team, and his level and consistency in the last year or so, it’s remarkable. I don’t think you will find a lot of centre-backs doing what he’s doing.” Arteta said last October.

Furthermore, Gabriel and Saliba started together in 24 games this season and won 17, which is a 70.8% win rate. This is almost the same as Arsenal’s team win rate of 71.4% in 28 games. Additionally, when Gabriel and Saliba are on the pitch, their opponents have only generated 0.79 expected goals against them, which is an impressively low number.