BBC Sport pundit Garth Crooks has waxed lyrical about Arsenal star William Saliba after the defender helped the Gunners beat Crystal Palace in the Premier League on Monday (August 21).
Martin Odegaard’s 53rd-minute penalty sealed the victory for Mikel Arteta’s side at Selhurst Park. The north London giants had to fight hard to earn all three points, with Takehiro Tomiyasu being sent off after being booked twice in the 67th minute of the game.
Saliba, 22, was one of the standout performances for Arsenal against Roy Hodgson’s men, marshaling their backline even when they went a man down. It is evident why the Premier League giants struggled to cope without the France international at the end of last season.
The Gunners kept just two clean sheets in their last 11 league games last term after Saliba picked up a back injury. They also conceded their lead in the title race to Manchester City during the period, allowing the Cityzens to win the league for the third season in a row.
Impressed by Saliba’s display at Selhurst Park, Crooks acknowledged that the Frenchman’s absence cost Arsenal the title last term. The former forward added that the defender’s return has made Arteta’s side strong at the back once again. He wrote in his BBC Sport column:
“Saliba missed the back end of last season and it arguably cost Arsenal the title. Now he is back in the line-up and they look like a team capable of keeping clean sheets again.”
Crooks also wrote that the win against Crystal Palace proved that the London-based club are up for another title race this season:
“This was an important victory for the Gunners away at Crystal Palace. Six points in their two opening games keep the pressure on Manchester City and send a message to the rest of the league that they are up for the battle once again this season.”
The former Tottenham Hotspur star concluded:
“The home side made life very difficult for the visitors, but they couldn’t penetrate Arsenal’s defensive backline even once the visitors went down to 10 men, and that was largely due to the presence of Saliba.”
It is safe to say that Arsenal’s hopes of winning the title this season could largely depend on Saliba avoiding serious injuries.
How did Arsenal’s William Saliba fare against Crystal Palace?
William Saliba started at center-back alongside Ben White against Crystal Palace. The Frenchman was one of the best players on the pitch, earning a 7.8 rating on Sofascore. Only Thomas Partey (7.9) received a higher score across both teams.
The defender made eight clearances, which was four more than any other player across both teams. He also made two clearances and blocked one shot. The former Olympique Marseille loanee made one last-man tackle as well.
Saliba registered 83 touches of the ball, with only Crystal Palace‘s Joachim Andersen (85) having more. He completed 61 passes, including five long balls, with 94% accuracy. He also won three of four duels competed in.