Arsenal defender William Saliba has arguably made himself the least droppable player in Mikel Arteta’s squad. The Frenchman is the current holder of an impressive club record which only stresses his undoubted importance to the Gunners’ chances of winning major honours.
Saliba finally made his long-awaited Arsenal debut on the first day of last season, over three years after he joined the club. He immediately established himself in a centre-back pairing with Gabriel which saw £50million-signing Ben White banished to right-back.
Arsenal were nigh-on-perfect when Saliba was in the team last term. They won 21 of the 27 matches he started, losing just three.
But it was a different story when he was out of the side. Arsenal were clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table when Saliba was struck down with a back injury in March.
He left a gaping hole in the defence which Rob Holding wasn’t able to fill with conviction. Arsenal let slip two 2-0 leads at Liverpool and West Ham, as well as suffering a damaging 3-3 draw at home to Southampton.
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The Gunners’ title challenge disintegrated in front of their eyes, losing three of the 11 matches Saliba missed and winning just five. He is now back fully fit and again contributing to a successful start to the season in the top flight for Arteta’s men.
A closer look at the statistics shows just how vital Saliba is to Arsenal on the domestic and European stage. Following Saturday’s win at Bournemouth, Arsenal have now won 76.5 per cent of league matches he has played.
That percentage dropped considerably to 45.5 when he was out last season. Arsenal also concede fewer goals when Saliba plays.
They concede an average of 0.9 goals per game with him compared to 1.6 without. But, as the Telegraph points out, Saliba is also the occupant of an even more impressive Arsenal record.
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Saliba has won more points per game in the Premier League than any other Arsenal player in the competition’s history. Of those to have made at least 10 appearances, the 22-year-old sits at the top of the list with an average of 2.44 points per match.
He is indispensable in this Arsenal side, not that Arteta needs telling. He said of Saliba this week: “When you look how he’s developing, his role in the team, the level and consistency he’s shown 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. Credit to the players around him as well, the way they are guiding him, protecting him, inspiring him and then with the qualities he has, the presence, the physicality and composure to be a leader in the back line for a big club like us, it’s a huge compliment.”
Every team has players who are more important than others. But perhaps Saliba can now be considered the single biggest influence on this Arsenal side.
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