Football News

‘He’s been outstanding’ – Gary Neville lauds William Saliba after latest standout performance in Premier League title race

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 14:30, 13 May 2024

There was no hesitation from Gary Neville when naming his player-of-the-match as Arsenal ran out 1-0 winners over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Knowing any less than a win could see their Premier League title hopes all but end, the Gunners, through Leandro Trossard, secured a win that ensures this season’s champions will be decided on the final day.

However, it was not exactly a performance typical of Arsenal this season that said their hosts seldom threatened, and when they did, Mikel Arteta’s defensive marshall William Saliba was equal to whatever United threw at David Raya’s goal.

The 23-year-old central defender won 100% of his duels (7/7), 100% of his aerial duels (3/3), had the most touches of the ball (99), completed the most passes (76/84), most clearances (6) and most tackles (4). Also, he did not commit a single foul and was not dribbled past once.

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“Saliba has been outstanding today. It’s Saliba [Player of the Match]. 11th clean sheet away from home and a really big one,” Neville said during Sky Sports commentary. “He had to keep concentrating. Arsenal have not been at their best today, but he has.”

A mainstay in the Gunners’ lineup since relocating from Saint-Étienne, 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 (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 33 Premier League games together this season, and when they have been on the pitch together, Arteta’s side has conceded just 0.73 expected goals per game while keeping more clean sheets (17) and conceding the fewest shots on target per 90 minutes (2.31).

Nemanja Vidic, who knows a thing about successful defensive partnerships, is a fan. “The two from Arsenal [William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes] are doing well,” he said in a recent Times interview.

“Watching them, I feel they like defending and want the clean sheet. I like the mentality they show. And they are a partnership. That is important. Arsenal, this season, have not been conceding many goals.”

Furthermore, this season, Gabriel and Saliba won 24 of the games that started, which is a 72.7% win rate. This is almost the same as Arsenal’s team win rate of 72.9% in 33 games. One more success could be enough to end the Gunners ‘ two-decade wait to be crowned English champions.