Why Saliba quickly became Arsenal’s MVP (065)

William Saliba quickly established himself as one of the key cogs in the refined Arsenal machine this season, winning plaudits all round for his ice cool performances at the heart of our back four. 

With him in the team, Arsenal were suddenly able to play like Mac City, with both centre backs living high up the pitch, forcing the opposition into their defensive third, and sucking the life out of teams.

Without him, the drop off has been huge. When Rob Holding came into the team, Arsenal’s line dropped by over 10m, which had a serious impact on the team’s ability to retain possession as the distances between players becomes much greater.

Those distances are key. Zinchenko helps in this sense as he is essentially a midfielder who drops into left back, rather than a left back who comes into midfield, which gives the Arsenal six an always on receiver and the defenders an option who can receive even in the tights of areas.

But with Holding in the team, the ball was traveling slower to Zinchenko, Partey, White and Gabriel. Unlike Saliba, he would take five or six touches compared to Saliba’s one, which invited pressure from attackers, and put the whole backline under pressure.

Saliba’s ability to give it first day allowed Arsenal to play quickly, and through the press as players couldn’t get close to him, and that was due to a mix of his technical ability and composure on the ball. He simply never panics, even when he is pressed.

He is a player who is at ease in possession, and is more than comfortable looking up and playing a quick, short pass, or bypassing the sixes to go straight to Saka or Odegaard, enabling Arsenal to play more direct, without having to ping it long.

Alongside his abilities on the ball, his physical attributes are equally impressive, with his commanding 6’4 frame and lightening pace allowing him to get out of the majority of situations, and make the sweeper role his own.

This has allowed Gabriel to focus on his job as a front footed defender, attacking the ball and carrying the ball into midfield, and that balance and understanding has been key to Arsenal’s success.

Both of them complement each other. They each have contrasting strengths, however neither of them have major weaknesses in their game, which is why they have been on of the Premier League’s best partnerships this season.

Saliba’s injury may have done in a favour in some ways. It just highlighted even further how important he is to the club at this point, and every Arsenal fan is begging the club to pay him whatever he wants. There isn’t another defender his age on the planet as good, and that is why he has become Arsenal’s MVP.

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