Opinion: Not Kai Havertz or Declan Rice, William Saliba Is Key To Arsenal’s Premier League Challenge

Arsenal defender William Saliba Is The Joint-Most Valuable Defender In The World
Arsenal defender William Saliba Is The Joint-Most Valuable Defender In The World

Under the tutelage of Mikel Arteta, Arsenal soared to new heights last season. They played eye-catching football, picked up important wins against mighty opponents, and gave reigning champions Manchester City a real run for their money.

Yes, they could have ended their campaign on a higher note, probably should have gone the distance. But considering the resources they had at their disposal, a second-place finish was not a poor outcome. The story has changed this summer, with them spending a whopping $255 million to fuel their Premier League aspirations.

William Saliba is Arsenal’s “Rock”

New signings Declan Rice, Kai Havertz, and Jurrien Timber are certain to give the Gunners a boost in the Premier League race. But it is William Saliba, who still holds the key to Arsenal’s success.

In Arsenal’s FA Community Shield shootout win over Manchester City last weekend (August 6), Saliba proved why he is considered to be one of the best center-backs in England. His positioning was immaculate, he never let Erling Haaland out of his sight, and most importantly, he never panicked when his back was against the wall.

In a recent interview, former Aston Villa man Gabby Agbonlahor explained Saliba’s importance. On talkSPORT, he said:

“You know who I like the most in the Arsenal team, at the moment? It’s William Saliba. He is a rock.

“See when Erling Haaland got the ball [in the Community Shield], I think it was in the first half, and he didn’t want to knock it past Saliba, so he ran back, away from goal.”

He added:

“People don’t want to take Saliba on. If he can stay fit the whole season, then they will have a better chance [to win the Premier League].”

Saliba’s fitness key to the Gunners’ Premier League aspirations

Saliba missed 11 games with a back injury in the 2022-23 Premier League season. In the 27 matches he featured in, Arsenal won 21, lost thrice, and drew on the remaining three occasions.

In the 11 games he missed, the north Londoners dropped points in six games, drawing thrice and losing thrice. Rob Holding and Gabriel Magalhaes tried their best to provide solidity in the heart of the defense, but they simply were not up to the task.

Injuries are a part and parcel of football, so it is impossible to guarantee a player’s fitness throughout the season. However, Arteta could still take some measures to make sure Saliba stays available for key matches. The Spaniard could try to rotate Saliba more than he did last season and spare him the cup ties, especially in the initial rounds.

The Londoners simply cannot afford to tempt fate and lose their best defender to yet another long-term injury. The stakes are stratospheric this season.

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