William Saliba – Data Viz – News Arseblog


When William Saliba joined Arsenal in the summer of 2019 he was part of an influx of new faces including Nicolas Pepe, Kieran Tierney and David Luiz at an expense of around £ 140million.

After seeing Unai Emery’s side miss the Champions League qualification by just one point and then lose the Europa League final, Stan Kroenke gave football director Raul Sanllehi money to spend to try to make that marginal improvement in the Premier League.

As such, dropping £ 28.5million on an 18-year-old center-back with less than 20 professional appearances and immediately loaning him to his ‘old’ club seemed an unusual use of funds, but that’s exactly what that Arsenal did. A deal was struck, apparently with competition from neighboring Sp * rs, as the Gunners agreed to buy Saliba for a record club-paid amount for a teenager, and allowed Saint-Etienne to keep him for another. season.

This campaign was cut short by injury and the Covid-19 pandemic which saw the closure of French football in March 2020. He returned to Arsenal to train, but after some injury issues and nearly 6 months without football competition, it was deemed necessary for him to spend more time on loan. However, Rennes Ligue 1 side withdrew from a last-minute deal and Arsenal were unable to complete the paperwork in time for him to return to Saint-Etienne. Subsequently, he was not named to Arteta’s Europa League squad – his only realistic chance of minutes – and as a result those months were wasted.

He joined Nice for the second half of this season, and at the start of the summer the club decided the 20-year-old needed another season on loan to continue his development. A deal was quickly struck with Marseille, where he has impressed so far.

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In the 2020-21 season, Nice placed 5th in ball possession nationally, keeping the ball an average of 55% per game, providing the perfect conditions for Saliba to show off his ball-playing abilities. He has played a leading role, making 22 starts as of January – which surprisingly saw him (considering he only played half a season) shortlisted for Defender of the Year in League 1.

He was initially deployed in the center of a back-three until Les Aiglons acquired the services of another lender – Barcelona’s Jean-Clair Todibo. This allowed Adrian Ursea to use a back-four and move Saliba to the left center-back where he played 73% of his minutes.

So far this season in Ligue 1, only PSG have seen more ball than Saliba’s current loan destination, Marseille – who keep around 63% possession per game.

Its seamless integration into the system based on Jorge Sampaoli’s possession drew attention. A series of excellent performances have helped Marseille register 4 clean sheets in their last 6 appearances – in addition to Kylian Mbappe’s even stride for the stride and winning a decisive tackle in their 0-0 draw with the leaders of the league.

If Saliba is to have a future with Arsenal, it won’t be the first choice at the start. Gabriel and Benjamin White are the preferred partnership, and the youngster will have to accept the challenge of playing second fiddle to White’s positional equivalent.

However, the minutes accumulated as a left central defender in Nice could still prove to be beneficial. Improving his body positioning and moving through difficult areas are traits that could pay dividends passing Pablo Mari.

Although it is difficult to categorize his style of play, there are some similarities to Virgil van Dijk in his performances – they are both blessed with pace, technical ability and a calming influence on the ball. Both are right-handed, but comfortable on the left side of central defense, and both possess ball-advancing qualities.

The graph above visualizes all progressive staves (left) and 3 groups (right) representing average length and direction.

Saliba finished the 2020-21 season by covering a remarkable 272.7 yards of progressive distance for 90 – the distance a player moves the ball with their feet towards an opponent’s goal. For context, that’s more than any Ligue 1 player led last season who accumulated over 90 minutes.

The graph above visualizes the distribution with each point representing a player, the more to the right being the better.

Criticized in some circles for choosing Marseille over Newcastle over the summer, Saliba thrives under the guidance of a coach who shares a similar philosophy to Arteta and displays ball progression numbers that would not have been possible while playing for Steve Bruce.

Working under Sampaoli, the lender shows his intention and license to dribble from the back, and compared to all defenders who have racked up more than 300 minutes, he ranks in the 77th percentile of Europe’s Top 5 for attempted dribbling and at the 93rd percentile for phase-in. distance.

The graph above visualizes the distribution with each point representing a player, the more to the right being the better.

Additionally, only 9 defensemen from those Big 5 leagues have attempted more 90 passes than Saliba (79.9) so far this season. From those attempts, the Frenchman plays progressive passes about 6-7 times per 90 (84th percentile) – completed passes that bring the ball 25% closer to the center of the goal – with an accuracy rate of 76%.

The graph above shows the expected threat (xT) by 90 that a player adds from their passes and carries into open play. Only positive xT is counted, as certain actions (most back and side passes) reduce a team’s chances of scoring.

Saliba ranks 5th nationally as the most threatening ball player plying his trade in central defense. A combination of sharp passes into the opponent’s half and deep throws saw him generate many “threats” for Marseille – a metric that quantifies moving the ball into dangerous positions.

It should be noted that much of what makes defenders good is not measured statistically. If they are out of position, they are not present for an event to occur and if properly placed, no event occurs because there is no space for an opponent to exploit.

All the same, Saliba’s statistical profile shows a somewhat risk averse defender who only commits when the situation favors him. It ranks at the 87th percentile for true tackle win rate (tackles + lost challenges + faults) and 87th percentile in successful presses, which means that when he engages, he wins the ball.

That said, improvements are still needed against dribblers (44% success rate) as his reluctance to get stuck often allows him to navigate successfully, and despite the impressive 6ft 4in frame, he does not engage. not (25th percentile) or winning (57% success rate) almost enough aerial duels.

To sum up, William Saliba’s extended start to life at Arsenal has been well documented, but from a career development perspective, he’s doing quite well. If you can be successful in the pressure cooker environment that Marseille is, you have a good chance of being successful anywhere. He is not only successful, but acquires constant and essential playing time.

It’s only the early days, but the young defender is currently Sampaoli’s most used player (1290) – the only Premier League defender of the same age who has nearly those minutes is Southampton’s Tino Livramento, who plays in back. No central defender of the same age comes close to this kind of minutes. At the same ages, Ben White and Gabriel were preparing for loans with Newport, Peterborough and Leeds; and Troyes and Dinamo Zagreb respectively, and it’s easy to see how they’ve benefited.

The arrival of £ 50million for White has led many to believe Saliba’s time at Arsenal was over before it started. However, recent reports indicate that the Gunners are monitoring his progress and are happy with his progress. Sam Dean in the Telegraph reported that the player has a simple plan: ‘get back to Arsenal and finally prove himself’, as well as take steps to improve his English over the next few months to facilitate that process.

It remains to be seen exactly what will happen next summer but – so far on the basis of his playing time – the loan moves have been successful and have given him significant experience for the help make his mark at Premier League level.

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