Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Big Willy Style


Those are the minutes played by William Saliba so far this season. He has played the most for Arsenal this campaign, although Ben White is pushing him hard with 988, and Martin Odegaard not far behind with 981. Big Willy is top though.

It’s taken as read that he is one of the best young centre-halves in the world, but I thought it might be interesting to look at some stats from this season alone which demonstrate that very clearly. The first stat is that most of you have two eyes, and can see what an incredible player he is. His size makes him an imposing figure at the back, and I’m still occasionally going back to that GIF of Erling Haaland just bouncing off him and crumpling into a flattened heap like when Darth Vader struck down Obi-Wan Kenobi and all that was left was his robe (how did that work, btw? What is that robe made of? As winter approaches, I want a dressing gown that can withstand the power of a light-saber which in turn can dissolve a man to nothing).


Those are attempted passes (PL only). He has completed 94% of them. This ability was never more evident than on Sunday against Man City when he completed 98% of his passes against one of the best pressing teams in the planet.

In the Champions League he has completed at a 92% completion rate.


Interceptions so far in the Premier League and Champions League. You can have all the pace and physicality in the world, but if you’re a centre-half who can’t read the game, you’re in big trouble. He reads it like a book. Or a very well designed website, that isn’t splattered with ads and is optimised for mobile devices.

He has also blocked 6 attempts on goal this season, and while that might speak to an element of last-ditchness, that’s still a necessary component of defending at the highest level – often because something has gone ‘wrong’ somewhere else.


Just two fouls committed so far this season. There is something so clean about the way he defends, and part of that is linked to the above. His positioning and reading of the game is so impeccable he uses that to get there before the opposition, and therefore isn’t resorting to desperate measures to try and win the ball.

The converse of that was something that I observed in years of watching Arsenal. The more desperate your defender’s actions, the slidier they are in a panicked attempt to win the ball, or the more often they fall over by simple virtue of an attacker coming anywhere near them, the higher they are on something I call the Mustafi Scale.

Where Mustafi’s xMuf was 100, Saliba’s is currently at 0. This is a very good thing.

He is also at 0 for yellow cards.


Duels won. We know how much Mikel Arteta loves duels. In days of yore, he’d have been legging it around San Sebastian at dawn with a pair of pistols, challenging anyone who was into it to take ten paces and then go for it.

William Saliba has won 66.5% of all the duels he has contested so far in all competitions. Just to put that in some Arsenal context: I think Ben White, Gabriel, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Declan Rice have all been very good defensively for us this season (and otherwise), and their duels won percentages are 50%, 57%, 47%, and 57% respectively.

Those lads are good, William Saliba is extra.


Slaps around the head he gave Gabriel Martinelli at the end of the Man City game. Affectionate ones. There are no stats for goal-celebration vigour, but this is one where you don’t need Opta (no offence lads). He is at 100% whenever we score, we saw this last season and while there was uncertainty about what was going to happen with his contract, what gave me a bit of inner peace was how obviously he was invested in this team and how much he enjoyed being part of it.

Now we have him tied down for the foreseeable future, and when Arsenal score goals, who is there to leap through the air and land on top of the huddle? Yes, it’s a gigantic centre-half who might crush them all, but who has the deftness and subtlety not to. It’s a long way from Cedric being first on the scene for every goal, let me tell you.


Games he’ll play during the Interlull because he has a sore toe. The last part isn’t good, but the first part is. Hopefully we can rest him up, because as much as we fret when Bukayo Saka isn’t there, I think Saliba has reached the same point in terms of how important he is to this team.

Right, that’s it.


More cups of coffee I need to start my day. Have a good one folks, and there’s a brand new Arsenal Women Arsecast available for you right now – on site, and wherever you get your podcasts.

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