Arsenal are reported to have identified Saint-Etienne centre-back William Saliba as a top transfer target for the summer – but how do his stats compare to the Gunners’ existing options at the back?
The north Londoners picked up seven more points in Unai Emery’s first season in charge in the Premier League than they had managed in Arsene Wenger’s final campaign, despite scoring one goal fewer and conceding exactly the same number.
In an effort to improve again next season, Emery has targeted Saliba to freshen up his backline, according to Goal, and here are how the 18-year-old’s basic stats look against those of Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis, Laurent Koscielny and Rob Holding.
Big numbers in terms of defensive actions are not necessarily the sign of a good player – in fact, the opposite is generally true when it comes to tackles – and Saliba’s average of 2.0 per game is on a par with that of Mustafi and not much higher than Sokratis’ average of 1.7 per game.
Koscielny’s average of 1.1 per game can perhaps be put down to his extra experience, while 23-year-old Holding also made only 1.1 per game in his 10 appearances this season.
Koscielny also leads the way in terms of fouls committed per game at just 0.5, but Saliba is only just behind – along with Holding – with an average of 0.6 conceded per game. Sokratis is giving away an average of 1.5 per game – only just slightly less than his number of tackles – while Mustafi gives away 1.4 per game.
When it comes to interceptions, Saliba’s average of 1.8 per game is again in line with the Gunners’ top performers, with Mustafi leading the way in the squad with an average of 1.9, just ahead of Koscielny and youngster Konstantinos Mavropanos. Holding averages 1.2 per game, with Sokratis making only one per game.
Saliba trails when it comes to clearances with an average of 2.7 per game compared to all of Mustafi (5.2), Sokratis (4.3), Koscielny (4.1) and Holding (3.7), and his average of 1.8 aerial duels won per game also pales in comparison to Mustafi’s 4.0.
Sokratis (2.2), Holding (2.1) and Koscielny (1.5) are at least in a similar ball park, but at 6ft 4in, Saliba may need to make more use of his size should be move to the Premier League.
Perhaps the most pertinent stat when it comes to defending is the number of times dribbled past. That’s just 0.5 times per game for Saliba, but Mustafi (0.3) and Koscielny (0.4) both best him. Sokratis is also at 0.5, with Holding at 0.6.
— AS Saint-Étienne (@ASSEofficiel) April 18, 2019
Saliba only signed a new four-year contract in April, but cynics would suggest that is merely a way of Saint-Etienne ensuring they get the maximum price for the France Under-19 international, with Manchester United also known to have had him watched.
“I think he has everything needed to become a good player, much like Kurt Zouma, who I signed (for Chelsea),” former United Jose Mourinho has said about Saliba.
Should he move to Emirates Stadium, he may be asked to help build up play more than he was tasked to do at Saint-Etienne. His average of 40.3 passes per game this season trails that of Holding (61.4), Mustafi (56.9), Sokratis (55.5) and Koscielny (52.4), yet his pass success rate of 85.6% is worse than that of Koscielny (91.9), Sokratis (89.4) and Holding (87.5). Mustafi is the most wasteful passer with an average of 81.9%.
When it comes to long passes, Saliba has averaged 2.9 in Ligue 1 this season, more than his 2.3 long balls per game which haven’t found their intended targets.
Sokratis (4.1 v 3.0), Koscielny (3.5 v 1.4) and Holding (3.4 v 2.4) are also more likely to find their man than not with a long pass, but Mustafi is accurate with only 3.2 of his average 7.7 long balls per game.
With no goals or assists from his 17 appearances, Saliba will undoubtedly be expected to make more of his height in the opposition box in years to come. Koscielny (3), Mustafi (2) and Sokratis (1) all scored for Arsenal in the Premier League this past season, while Sokratis also provided a couple of assists for the cause.