02252021

Tactical Analysis: How Saliba has performed since leaving Arsenal on loan for Nice


In this tactical analysis, the performances of Arsenal’s Saliba in his 3 showings for Nice are broken down to assess his success so far.

Tactical Analysis: How Saliba has performed since leaving Arsenal on loan for Nice

A needed temporary departure

William Saliba has now played three full matches for Nice since moving on loan from Arsenal at the beginning of January. The young French defender arrived at Arsenal with great hope after a £27 million fee attached to him at the meager age of just 18.

However, he returned to Arsenal from his loan with St Etienne, agreed as part of the deal to sign him in 2019, and failed to feature once for the senior squad. He was relegated to the under-23s and played with the under 21s in the EFL trophy matches.

He grew gradually more frustrated and 101 revealed that the door to a permanent departure from the club was becoming more open to him.

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: William Saliba of Arsenal U21 walks off from pitch after receiving red card during the EFL Trophy match between AFC Wimbledon and Arsenal U21 at Plough Lane on December 8, 2020 in Wimbledon, England. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 08: William Saliba of Arsenal U21 walks off from pitch after receiving red card during the EFL Trophy match between AFC Wimbledon and Arsenal U21 at Plough Lane on December 8, 2020 in Wimbledon, England. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

It was therefore decided that he should leave the club for a brief stint and get regular playing time in a senior setup. Nice were the team which eventually acquired his services despite plenty of interest from across the continent and within England. When he arrived, there were some controversial statements from the Frenchman which effectively confirmed his frustrations at Arsenal.

“My first six months were difficult, because I was coming from six months where I wasn’t able to train because I was at home and couldn’t train outside, couldn’t play,” said Saliba.

“I arrived there as they were finishing the league season, so I was training alone. As soon as they came back from holidays, we quickly had the first friendly matches where I lacked rhythm and was a bit insufficient physically.”

The coach immediately told me that I was not ready. I would have at least liked to have a chance to rediscover my rhythm. But this is football, it’s like that.”

Now it is on Saliba to show Arsenal and Arteta what they are missing and why he should be incorporated into the first team next season.

Saliba Analysis

In the three matches that Saliba has played for Nice so far, the side has failed to win any. He has played against Brest (2-0 loss) Metz (1-1) and Bordeaux (0-3 loss). Despite these defeats, Nice still have one of the better defensive records in the bottom half of the table, conceding the second least amount of goals.

This would indicate their problem is seemingly at the other end of the pitch. Just 22 goals have been scored in the 19 games with just one side above them having scored less (Metz, 21).

Saliba’s arrival was not designed to solve those issues but instead to solidify the defence, hoping that if the opposition would find it harder to score, the few goals the club were converting would be the difference in the match’s result.

Saliba is a dynamic, ball-playing centre-half as opposed to the no-nonsense defenders of previous eras. The Frenchman likes to have the ball at his feet, trust in his ability to take players on and move the play forwards from the back. He began at Nice in his signature style almost immediately.

Under pressure, close to his goal, Saliba waits for his opponents to come within range before touching it past him.

Under pressure, close to his goal, Saliba waits for his opponents to come within range before touching it past him.

He then calmly slots the ball back to his keeper, relieving pressure.

He then calmly slots the ball back to his keeper, relieving pressure.

Spotting the loose ball, Saliba accelerates to win the challenge.

Spotting the loose ball, Saliba accelerates to win the challenge.

Not only does he win the ball, but he collects possession and moves it forwards.

Not only does he win the ball, but he collects possession and moves it forwards.

Spotting the run of his teammate, Saliba plays a long ball to the left wing.

Spotting the run of his teammate, Saliba plays a long ball to the left wing.

The ball is collected and Nice have a chance to attack the Brest box.

The ball is collected and Nice have a chance to attack the Brest box.

Another example but to the opposite flank. Saliba sprays a pass to the wide right-hand side.

Another example but to the opposite flank. Saliba sprays a pass to the wide right-hand side.

Atal attempts a first time cross with instead of taking the ball down which falls to no one in this scenario.

Atal attempts a first time cross instead of taking the ball down. With no targets, the move peters out.

Defensively, Saliba was always going to be scrutinised. Looking at the 6 goals which Nice have conceded under Saliba’s watch so far provides insight as to how culpable he has been for each.

Brest (Mounie) 1-0 Nice

Favre take the ball on the right hand side and appraoches the goal looking to shoot. Saliba is marking Mounie but begins to move ahead in anticipation of the shot.

Favre takes the ball on the right-hand side and approaches the goal looking to shoot. Saliba is marking Mounie but begins to move ahead in anticipation of the shot.

Saliba moves towards Favre in an attempt to block the shot, moving away from Mounie who holds position.

Saliba moves towards Favre in an attempt to block the shot, moving away from Mounie who holds position, but fails to reach it in time.

The Nice keeper parries the shot straight to the feet of a now unmarked Mounie who slots away the game's opening goal.

The Nice keeper parries the shot straight to the feet of the now unmarked Mounie who slots away the game’s opening goal.

For this goal, should Favre’s shot not happen, the goal does not likely occur. Saliba knows the danger is from the shot and so feels the need to leave his man in an attempt to block it. However, he is too slow to reach his target and the shot is taken.

It is unfortunate for the Frenchman that his keeper makes a poor effort at pushing it away from goal and instead straight into the path of Mounie, whom the Frenchman was previously marking. A possibly more experienced player would stay with his man and trust his teammate to block the shot and deal with the second ball if necessary.

Brest (Honorat) 2-0 Nice

Lotomba decides to take a risk and pass the ball back to his keeper whilst under pressure.

Lotomba decides to take a risk and pass the ball back to his keeper whilst under pressure.

Honorat accelerates onto the pass which was incredibly underpowered, rounds the keeper and scores.

Honorat accelerates onto the pass which was incredibly underpowered, rounds the keeper and scores.

To blame Saliba for this goal would be incredibly harsh. Lotomba makes a ridiculous decision not only to play the pass back to his keeper but to underpower it so much that it allows Honorat to ghost in behind Saliba, round the keeper and score.

It could be argued that Saliba should have been more aware of his opponent, however at the speed at which Honorat is running, for the Frenchman to turn and catch the forward before he reaches the ball would be asking a lot.

Metz (Boye) 1-1 Nice

After a cross is cleared. Saliba and 3 of his teammates do the right thing to step up to play any Metz forwards offside as the second cross is swung in. Unfortunately Kamara and Lotomba fail to do so playing all the Metz front line onside.

After a cross is cleared. Saliba leads 3 of his teammates to do the right thing and step up in order to play any Metz forwards offside as the second cross is swung in. Unfortunately Kamara and Lotomba fail to do so playing all the Metz front line onside.

Maiga is able to take the ball and strike towards goal. Boye instinctive follows the shot in with Saliba focused on the forward's strike.

Maiga is able to take the ball and strike towards goal. Boye instinctive follows the shot in with Saliba focused on the forward’s strike.

The keeper again deals with the strike poorly, parrying it straight to Boye who finishes instinctively.

The keeper again deals with the strike poorly, parrying it straight to Boye who finishes instinctively.

Saliba begins this part of play perfectly by stepping up to play the Metz forwards offside. However, unfortunately, his teammates were not on the same wavelength and did the complete opposite. When the ball falls to see Maiga, Saliba only has eyes for it and does not see Boye behind him. Again, to blame solely for this goal would be extremely harsh especially considering his keeper once again fails to deal with the ball parrying it straight back to the goalscorer.

The defensive knowledge to step up with the defensive line and lead that charge out should be appreciated.

Nice 0-1 (Ui-Jo Hwang) Bordeaux

Adli runs towards goal and Saliba stands his ground, not diving in.

Adli runs towards goal and Saliba stands his ground, not diving in.

Saliba blocks the route to goal forcing Adli away. However, Saliba's teammates have left Hwang completely free in the middle and Adli can simply square the ball across.

Saliba blocks the route to goal forcing Adli away. However, Saliba’s teammates have left Hwang completely free in the middle and Adli can simply square the ball across.

It is only possible to feel sorry for Saliba in this situation. The Frenchman does almost everything right, he could arguably have closed down Adli sooner, but stands his ground and prevents a route straight towards goal stopping a potential shot. Trusting his teammates to deal with what is behind him is what lets him down. The frankly criminal defending from his them allows Hwang to simply walk into free space and score.

Nice 0-2 (Baysse) Bordeaux

At the corner, Saliba is goal side of his marker. Unfortunately, Nsoki loses the ground on his man Baysse who runs ahead.

At the corner, Saliba is goal side of his marker. Unfortunately, Nsoki loses the ground on his man Baysse who runs ahead.

Baysse easily climbs to reach the cross and scores. It should be noted Saliba remains goal side of his man throughout the goal.

Baysse easily climbs to reach the cross and scores. It should be noted Saliba remains goal side of his man throughout the goal.

This goal is not the fault of Saliba and the Frenchman stays with his man at the corner throughout the move, unfortunately his teammate did not do the same.

Nice 0-3 (Basic) Bordeaux

Nsoki makes little effort to block the corss as Saliba is again forced to close down the attacking Bordeaux winger. His teammates in the box are marking horrifically and manage not to pick up a single player despite outnumbering them.

Nsoki makes little effort to block the cross as Saliba is again forced to close down the attacking Bordeaux winger. His teammates in the box are marking horrifically and manage not to pick up a single player despite outnumbering them.

The cross reaches a completely free Basic who strokes home. The keeper is again poor with the shot struck close to him again.

The cross reaches a completely free Basic who strokes home. The keeper is again poor with the shot struck close to him again.

One of the worst pieces of defending you may ever see for the 3rd Bordeaux goal. Nsoki nonchalantly running back and making no effort to block the cross. Saliba’s teammates in the box, despite outnumbering the opponents, failing to mark a single player. Focusing specifically on Saliba, he does not do much wrong here and closes down the player that his teammate should be, believing the three players behind him should be able to cope with Bordeaux’s two attackers.

Based on these goals, there are elements of concern that these final months may put Saliba under continuous pressure to be a senior figure in a Ligue 1 side whose defensive record may flatter their genuine ability. At just 19, it could make or break the player and if he can continue to improve and be an example to the others, he may prove to Arteta that he is in fact ready for the first team.

An example of his seniority in the backline was in the match against Metz. The 19-year-old tracked back brilliantly, used his pace and won the ball, saving what looked to be a certain last-minute winner for Metz.

The statistics are impressive too: 25 interceptions across the three matches, 6 out of 10 defensive duels won, 6 out of 9 aerial duels won, 3 out of 6 loose ball duels won and 33 recoveries with just the one foul made. Nice have needed Saliba, the hope will be that the rest of the defence can be inspired by the young Frenchman’s performances and raise their game also.

Further analysis can be completed at the end of the season to provide a more evidenced conclusion and 101 will revisit at that time but the initial signs show hope that Arsenal’s investment was indeed justified.

Tactical Insight: William Saliba – The evidence as to why Mikel Arteta is not yet ready to throw the Frenchman into the Arsenal first team

Exclusive: William Saliba’s Arsenal frustrations and why the door to a permanent exit is now open


This article was edited by
Josh Barker.

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Premier League table

# Team MP D P
1 Manchester United FC 18 10 37
2 Manchester City FC 17 16 35
3 Leicester City FC 18 12 35
4 Liverpool FC 18 16 34
5 Tottenham Hotspur FC 18 16 33
6 Everton FC 17 7 32
7 Chelsea FC 18 12 29
8 Southampton FC 18 5 29
9 West Ham United FC 18 4 29
10 Aston Villa FC 15 13 26
11 Arsenal FC 18 1 24
12 Leeds United 18 -4 23
13 Crystal Palace FC 19 -11 23
14 Wolverhampton Wanderers FC 19 -8 22
15 Newcastle United FC 17 -9 19
16 Brighton & Hove Albion FC 19 -7 17
17 Burnley FC 17 -13 16
18 Fulham FC 17 -11 12
19 West Bromwich Albion 18 -27 11
20 Sheffield United FC 19 -22 5
Player Team Goals
Salah, Mohamed Liverpool FC 13
Kane, Harry Tottenham Hotspur FC 12
Son, Heung Min Tottenham Hotspur FC 12
Fernandes, Bruno Manchester United FC 11
Vardy, Jamie Leicester City FC 11
Calvert-Lewin, Dominic Everton FC 11
Bamford, Patrick Leeds United 10
Zaha, Wilfried Crystal Palace FC 8
Wilson, Callum Newcastle United FC 8
Rashford, Marcus Manchester United FC 7
Ings, Danny Southampton FC 7
Maupay, Neal Brighton & Hove Albion FC 7
Lacazette, Alexandre Arsenal FC 7
Mane, Sadio Liverpool FC 6
Watkins, Ollie Aston Villa FC 6
Abraham, Tammy Chelsea FC 6
Barnes, Harvey Leicester City FC 6
Grealish, Jack Aston Villa FC 5
Sterling, Raheem Manchester City FC 5
Firmino, Roberto Liverpool FC 5



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