Football Features

Arsenal stats: How William Saliba has become the Premier League’s best defender

By Callum Rice-Coates

Published: 17:14, 15 May 2024 | Updated: 18:14, 19 May 2024

William Saliba has been a rock in defence for Arsenal this season.

The Frenchman has helped his side to a league-leading 18 clean sheets, the latest of which came in a vital 1-0 win over Manchester United last weekend.

Mikel Arteta’s side have built their recent success on solid defensive foundations, with just 28 goals conceded in 37 Premier League games.

If they do get over the line and win their first title since 2004, they will be indebted to some remarkable performances from Saliba.


Introducing Squawka Selector! Guaranteed cash-prize winners with our brand new free-to-play game

  • Click here to register for Squawka Selector
  • Sign up and press ‘Join’ on the next available pot
  • Correctly predict outcomes like Full Time Result and Anytime Goalscorer to score points
  • Track your progress in real-time with our live leaderboard

Squawka Selector final ad


 

Immovable object

Saliba has formed a formidable partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes at the back in 2023-24.

Together, they have helped Arsenal repeatedly nullify even the most potent attacks in the Premier League.

But the France international has stood out, ranking first among the division’s centre-backs for ball recoveries (209) and possessions won in the middle third (105).

The 23-year-old appears to have no obvious weaknesses. He has the pace and strength to prevent dangerous runs in behind, as well as the intelligence and positional awareness to step out from the back when required.

Perhaps most impressively, he has been a constant reassuring presence in defence this term: no defender in the league has played more minutes than Saliba (3,330).

“Saliba has been amazing, I think he’s probably the best defender in the Premier League this season,” Emmanuel Petit recently told Compare.bet.

Ball-playing defender

As well as his dominant defending, Saliba is accomplished in possession, a prerequisite for a player in an Arteta team.

Among top-tier centre-backs, only Lewis Dunk (2,938) and Virgil van Dijk (2,564) have completed more passes than Saliba (2,539).

A passing accuracy of 92.46% is impressive, and Saliba is rarely guilty of surrendering possession.

He is forward-thinking, too, ranking in the top 10 centre-backs for passes into the final third completed (171).

Goal threat

Not content just to play a huge part in defence, Saliba has also been a persistent threat in attack, particularly from set-pieces.

The Arsenal defender ranks fourth among Premier League centre-backs for xG from corners (2.19).

That said, his partner Gabriel leads the way, with an eye-catching xG of 4.4.

Catching up in that department could be a target for Saliba next season, but Arsenal will likely be more than happy with his contributions in 2023/24.

Depending on results elsewhere, one more clean sheet could be enough to end the Gunners’ long wait for a Premier League title.

If that is achieved, whether this season or in the future, Saliba will soon be mentioned in the same breath as legendary Arsenal defenders like Tony Adams, Martin Keown and Sol Campbell.