William Saliba will return to Arsenal in the summer however what will happen with the French defender is unknown. Mikel Arteta has a strong centre-back partnership at present and it will be difficult for the former Saint-Etienne starlet to break into the team’s starting eleven.
However, Saliba has amassed a considerable level of appreciation from the Arsenal fan base. Since his £27 million move in 2019, the Gunners supporters have longed to see him play competitively. This has consequently led to harsher criticism of Ben White.
White joined Arsenal in 2021 for £50 million and took Saliba’s shirt number. Despite a rocky opening game against Brentford, White has been one of the most consistent performers in Arteta’s side.
Now a full England international and with a World Cup on the horizon this winter, White will not want to give up his place. His performances this season have certainly sent a message to any potential threats spelling out that he has no intention of conceding his spot in the team.
William Saliba has played the majority of matches in the right centre half role and, like White, has the versatility to play in either a back three or four. In addition, he has also featured in the right-back role when needed, again like White.
The differences between the pair in how they compare come in the level to which they have performed. White has the Premier League experience Saliba currently lacks but importantly, the defensive deficiencies of the Gunners’ recent past have been overhauled by his presence.
When comparing White and Saliba’s defensive performances this season, the gap begins to emerge. According to Wyscout, White’s defensive duel success rate of 71.3% against Premier League level opposition is higher than that of Saliba at 70.4% playing in France.
This continues aerially. White competes in 3.4 aerial duels per 90 winning 57.3% compared to Saliba’s 53.4% of a smaller number of 2.45 aerial duels per 90.
White completes an average of 9.85 recoveries to Saliba’s 9.19, and White contributes with 3.05 clearances and 0.75 blocks per game to Saliba’s 1.71 clearances and 0.6 blocks. The story continues with pressures, the England centre half commits to 9.64 pressures per 90 compared to Saliba’s 7.65.
White is out-performing Saliba in five separate defensive areas and doing so against a level of opposition higher than that on offer in Ligue 1. Is this surprising? Not particularly, White has more than two years’ experience over Saliba.
However, it is important to consider that the expectation for who is one of Europe’s most exciting defensive talents to come in and usurp the existing Arsenal man is not realistic. Not for the 21-year-old’s biggest supporters nor for Saliba himself.
With Arsenal, hopefully, achieving European competition next season there will be plenty of opportunities to play. However, if Saliba wants guarantees that he will start for Arsenal in the Premier League from the off, it simply is not realistic nor fair on the currently better player.
There is a possibility that Mikel Arteta could try to fit Saliba, White and Gabriel into a back three. All of the trio have featured successfully in the three-man system and successful sides such as Chelsea and Inter Milan have won major honours last season using the formation.
Yet Arteta does appear committed to continuing with his current 4-3-3 setup. Ultimately, Arteta and his team need to convince Saliba that Arsenal remains the best place for him and that his footballing ambitions can be realised in north London.