Should Gabriel/Saliba have been nominated for Player of the Season?

Gabriel and Saliba


Should Gabriel/Saliba have been nominated for Player of the Season?

The 2023/2024 season ended with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City just tipping the Gunners of North London to the title on the final day.

The campaign ended with the Cityzens’ Phil Foden being named player of the year.

As always, a common talk point season after season is the accompanying names in contention for this award.

This year, in the nomination list, Foden is joined by teammate Erling Haaland, Chelsea golden boy Cole Palmer, and forwards Ollie Watkins and Alexander Isak with Aston Villa and Newcastle United respectively.

The list was rounded up by Arsenal duo Declan Rice and club captain Martin Odegaard. Begging the question of why neither of their first-choice defensive pairings made this list.

Despite finishing a slim second, Arsenal led the season’s defensive metrics conceding a miserly 29 goals and recording a season-high 18 clean sheets. The architects behind this impressive run were none other than centre-backs Gabriel and William Saliba in front of either Aaron Ramsdale or more frequently David Raya. Their performances saw the Gunners keep the most clean sheets and fans happy enough to buy Arsenal tickets all through the campaign.

Despite Liverpool’s shabby end to this season, skipper Virgil Van Dijk still made the awards final nominations ahead of the Arsenal pairing which put in the season’s most assured defensive performance.

William Saliba

Arsenal’s 2022/2023 campaign was massively hampered by the French defender’s unlucky injury during the title run-in. Picking up an injury in the return leg against Sporting CP in their UEFA Europa League exploits.

This campaign, his return to the full set-up saw him play every one of the club’s games across the season. Saliba racked up the most clean sheets by a player in lone company with 18.

The former Saint-Etienne defender has received nominations in the Young Player of the Season category. However, one in the Player of the Year category remains lacking.

Saliba’s impressive run of form has already earned him a spot in France’s 2024 European Championships squad. Saliba commanded 78 clearances, 46 headed clearances and 72 aerial duels. In addition, he recorded a remarkable 93% pass accuracy from 2628 total passes. In the attacking shift, he put in two-headed goals and created six chances of his own.

Recall, that Saliba signed for Arsenal back in 2019 from Saint-Etienne for £27m as a teenager, but had to wait until August 2022 to make his professional debut for the club when Mikel Arteta chose to keep him at the club following impressive performances during the season-long loan at Olympique de Marseille.

Saliba’s return to full action this season has shown exactly why the club missed his quality during the run-in last campaign.

Although, Mikel Arteta did however refute it was a major determinant “I didn’t know about that narrative. But Saliba is a massive player for us and you see the impact he has on the team. We need everyone but he is really important.” He said.


The Brazilian defender made the switch to the Premier League from LOSC Lille. Initially struggling to find his feet in the first couple of seasons, Arsenal’s healthy campaigns in recent times have seen a similar upsurge of form for the centre-back.

Gabriel is renowned for being the more aggressive and front-footed of the duo stepping out to marshall the opposition with Saliba remaining the more composed one in the last-man role.

Arsenal ended the campaign with the most goals from set-pieces with Gabriel himself finding the highest among defenders this season with a tally of 4. In defensive metrics, Gabriel polled 97 clearances, 59 headed clearances and 31 interceptions across his 3044 minutes of football.

Defensive Duo snub

The Saliba-Gabriel core takes the stage as a very important bit of Arteta’s set-up. The partnership unearths memories similar to that of Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in the Sir Alex Ferguson era.

The duo kickstarted the build-up play consciously dragging in the opposition forward line to beat the press and help transition into the next phase of play.

Aside from the usual strong shifts put in games the North-London red have total control, they are also ready to sit low and soak all the pressure with their towering presences as evidenced in the mid-block employed against Manchester City in their seeming title-decider game.

Speaking on their partnership, gaffer Mikel Arteta remarked:

“You just feel it when you see the partnership. Sometimes there is a chemistry between two players that compliment each other.

They are so happy to work with and for each other. It just flows. They enjoy playing together and they’ve been really good.”

Ex-Arsenal star William Gallas did not hold back in his assessment of his fellow compatriot William Saliba, saying: “I will put William Saliba as the best defender in the Premier League this season.

“Declan Rice has been the signing of the season. I think he has had an amazing season for Arsenal. It’s been his first season with the club – he has six goals and seven assists.”

Ahead of next season, Arsenal are reportedly in the market for a cover in the department. In any regard, their ironclad partnership would remain central to Mikel Arteta’s plans going forward.


With football evolving year in, and year out, the spotlight has been on different positions in the sport as compared to previous years which focused mainly on the attacking third. Both getting nominated and winning the award in the long run by defenders already boast healthy precedents.

Manchester City’s Ruben Dias won the award back in 2021 when the club won the English first division.

Retired Manchester United legend Nemanja Vidic is also a multi-time recipient of the award.

Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk, nominated this year, has also commanded various nominations in the past.

That established, there are no particular grounds for the omission of the duo after their surreal 2024/2025 campaign. It remains to be seen how both players were omitted for the award but such is the debate and narrative that continues to surround awards in English football of late.

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