To date, I have refrained from commenting on a certain young French prospect for fear of admitting to my own personal biases, but I believe discussing the curious case of William Saliba brings out further debate of fan opinion on experience vs. youth and the appropriate method for their integration into first team action! Your honor as the defence’s council I shall put forth the argument for William Saliba’s introduction into the starting XI and why his exclusion hinders our progress. Firstly, we must dissect Arteta’s current system, the flaws we are seeing, and the role/projected chemistry he will have to have with our Brazilian colossus Gabriel.
Let’s review the system once again for clarity. Prior to Leeds, in possession, Mikel had preferred the 2-3-5 formation with some basic fundamentals: patient build-up geared towards vertical play through the wings, while the central areas of MF are used to primarily shuttle the ball through the thirds with effective progression. In addition, the MF reduces 1 v 1 isolation in transition with a flat 3 MF dedicated to preventing counter attacks in the space vacated in wide areas. BUT, quite recently in an interview with DAZN, Mikel has quite clearly laid out his widely known and previously predicted preference towards the infamous 4-3-3: “We want to [play] a 4-3-3, which is what I feel we can master the most and I know best how to convey. But for that, you need a lot of specificity in each position and we need another 5 or 6 [new players] to do this.” I still believe not much will change in the philosophy of attacking with 5 channels and defending in 5 channels. Particularly since a similar trend is adopted with all the modern coaches Twitter clamours about including your Julian Nagelsmann’s, Marco Rose’s, and Jesse Marsch’s of this world, however the zones on the pitch will be slightly altered depending on personal preference.
Unfortunately for Mikel, the current profiles we have in midfield are not suited to moving in/out effectively therefore resulting in an inability to control transitions and sustain possession in the final third. Further, our lack of technical security in midfield means we are unable to sustain continued attacking patterns fueling further transitions that expose our lack of athleticism running back to goal in midfield. The result you may ask? Well, beyond Thomas Partey, our midfield options have a tendency to either pull wide or go to the backline to refrain from being exposed in midfield due to their athletic deficiencies. We are risk-averse and don’t play with the courage to pass between the lines. This produces a chasm between the defence/attack and the dreaded ‘U-shaped pass maps’ that gives us PTED (Post-Traumatic Emery Disorder- I kid lol). It is true the midfield and our available profiles are the biggest enemy of progress, yet I bring this up to highlight the importance of a certain much maligned brazilian- David Luiz. Here we can see how important our brazilian dynamos are in contributing to our build-up. I will refrain from writing about our midfield problems in more detail, perhaps in a future article, nevertheless this becomes important when discussing the profile of William Saliba and projecting his role in our future set-ups.
Finally, we get to what I’m sure everyone is waiting for; tell me about William Saliba! Well, in short, I firmly believe that we are looking at the most complete young centre back prospect in all of world football. I hear you though let’s look at the numbers in his first full season to see if this is just another example of Twitter hyperbole. Quick glance seems that most agree we are dealing with a complete player here but one stat I would highlight is committing 1 (YES ONE) foul in 992 minutes, which highlights his biggest asset; composure. No more will we see a defender jump in, to relinquish responsibility, and leave our defence vulnerable. Whether Saliba is defending in space or wide in isolation, he jockey’s his opponent and trust’s both his strength and pace to out muscle or outrun attackers typically leaving them in his wake. His large frame predictably leaves him dominant in aerial duels. Further, his defensive instincts are immaculate, the best in Europe, and serve to underline his ability to remain calm when pressed- critical for success in the EPL. Rarely talked about, is this composure extends into his ability to orchestrate the progression so critical to our build-up, making him our best ball-playing centre back. Every pass is forward thinking and performed with the intent to supply the midfield as quickly as possible. His ability to perform line breaking passes into midfield immediately improves our ability transition through the thirds. Critically, a future partnership with Gabriel suits his playing profile immensely as his decision-making in 1 v 1 duels emulates a ‘sweeper’ as opposed to the ‘aggressor’ making us dream of a formidable complimentary future partnership able to serve us for decades to come.
So, if he is so good why isn’t he playing? Having lost both parents in an extremely tragic circumstance earlier this summer, it is impossible to project Saliba’s mental state of mind from the outside. I similarly have lost a brother at the same age as William and can understand from personal circumstance the unbelievable toll it takes, forgetting the impact of moving to a foreign land and language. It is perfectly fair to assume Arsenal are protecting William from undue media criticism. Therefore, I can only conclude that his exclusion to date is for non-footballing reasons which I am patient enough to reap the benefits from in the future. However, when projecting his ability to perform at Arsenal it is important to understand we are dealing with an elite talent who has had a season of Ligue 1 performances. Simply put, William deserves his chance to show what he can bring. I have always felt that the clear distribution of roles on the football pitch, with the right profiles as part of a system, far outweigh the benefits of experience. Further, our ‘experienced’ players have shown an inability to perform to an adequate standard for quite some time. This doesn’t mean we expect perfection and immediate adaptation. But, mistakes are mistakes they don’t care about age. A large benefit with youth is the potential for learning from that mistake. I hope we receive clarity on the situation in the coming months and I personally look forward to tracking his development in the great red and white! COYG
An avid fan from the big white north- Giorge, is from Toronto, Canada and is a 24-year-old international avid Arsenal fan. Arsenal really came to prominence in his life during the early 2000’s, and he has continued to follow them ever since- the Arsenal style of play is really the passion for his support! Trying to analyze the game from a playing perspective and supporting the team through the ups and downs will inevitably make it all worth it, even if it means waking up at odd hours to catch the games! Having played competitively up to the provincial level for many years, I hope to offer a youthful and unique perspective on all things Arsenal – COYG!