Talking Tactics

Saliba ready to tackle Palace attack

By Adrian Clarke 3 Aug 2022
William Saliba, Arsenal, Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke says Arsenal defender will relish stern test at Selhurst Park on Friday

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Adrian Clarke looks at key tactical points and players who can be decisive in Matchweek 1.

William Saliba (ARS)

Three years after signing for Arsenal, Saliba finally looks set to make his Premier League debut at Crystal Palace on Friday.

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The 21-year-old centre-back has returned from successful loan spells with Nice and Marseille, brimming with confidence.

Sailba has won five caps for France since his time away, as well as being named in Ligue 1’s Team of the Season and manager Mikel Arteta was always going to take a close look at him during pre-season.

Oozing composure and defensive quality alongside Gabriel during Arsenal’s summer fixtures, Saliba looks ready to make a positive impact.

Physical attributes

The 6ft 3in defender is a strong and athletic physical presence, but that should not disguise his comfort in possession.

Saliba’s quick feet and sharp footballing brain help him navigate awkward situations in tight areas.

He faces a Palace side who overpowered Arsenal with a ferocious pressing game in their 3-0 win last April and Saliba's qualities could stand him in good stead at Selhurst Park.

Pass master

Saliba’s passing and ball-carrying stats from last season are outstanding.

No Ligue 1 player enjoyed more touches and only three individuals ended the campaign with a better pass accuracy than the 93.7 per cent he produced.

Saliba's Ligue 1 stats 2021/22
Season 2021/22 Total Ligue 1 rank
Touches 3,351 1st
Prog. carrying distance (yds) 8,367 1st
Prog. passing distance (yds) 16,714 3rd
Pass completion % 93.7 4th
Prog. carries 243 5th
Passes into final 1/3 184 8th

During pre-season Saliba has been largely risk-averse, keeping his distribution and decision-making simple.

However, his numbers from 2021/22 do suggest he will carry the ball into the opposition half with great confidence.

Arteta likes his defenders and midfielders to be brave in possession via progressive forward passes or carries and in that respect, Saliba is exceptionally strong.

He was a top 10 performer in each of those areas in France last term and as the season progresses though, look out for the way he starts attacks from deep.

In what could be a fast-paced and frenetic opening night encounter at Palace, Saliba is likely to be watchful.

Forward duel

In both 2021/22 meetings with Palace, Arsenal struggled to contain the physicality of Jean-Philippe Mateta, Jordan Ayew, Christian Benteke and Odsonne Edouard.

Patrick Vieira will ask for a similarly robust approach from his forwards, providing a stern examination for Saliba.

Saliba pass comparison 2021/22
Player Successful presses %
Saliba 46.8%
Akanji 45.9%
Mavropanos 45.3%
Hincapie 43.3%
Nade 43.1%

When he applies pressure to opponents, he invariably comes out on top in those combative duels.

Indeed, Saliba's 46.8 per cent total of disrupting attacks with successful pressures was the best across Europe's top five leagues in 2021/22.

He will find the Premier League a different proposition from a physical perspective, but this stat bodes well for him.

Saliba has all the attributes needed to face one of his toughest tests of 2022/23.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Grealish and Haaland can form effective pairing
Part 3: Robertson's attacking prowess could unlock Fulham
Part 4: Man Utd must be alert to Trossard threat

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