Home BETTING TIPS Saliba is now the Premier League’s dominant centre back

Saliba is now the Premier League’s dominant centre back

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There couldn’t have been a greater contrast between the performances of Manchester United and Arsenal’s centre backs at Old Trafford on Sunday. While Casemiro produced another performance to suggest his days at football’s elite level are over, William Saliba was a brick wall as the Gunners kept it tight at the back in a 1-0 victory.

If Arsenal win the Premier League title for the first time in 20 years this weekend, it will be on the strength of their defence. No team has conceded fewer goals than the Gunners. David Raya has kept the most clean sheets of any goalkeeper in the league with Mikel Arteta placing an emphasis on his backline.

Saliba is the perfect modern centre back. Physically, he is imposing, but also possesses the technical skills to use possession well. Long gone are the days of centre backs lumping the ball up the pitch at every opportunity and Saliba reflects this with the way he freoquebnrly plays out from the back.

No Premier League centre has performed at a higher level over the last two seasons than Saliba. Arsenal might well have won the title last season had the Frenchman stayed fit for the final quarter of the campaign with Saliba’s absence through injury coinciding with a drop-off from the Gunners as Manchester City ultimately bypassed them.

The Premier League isn’t short of top quality centre backs. Virgil van Dijk is still a key figure for Liverpool while Ruben Dias is a central pillar of Pep Guardiola’s City team. Then there’s Micky van de Ven who has impressed for Tottenham Hotspur since joining the North London club from Wolfsburg last summer.

Van Dijk, however, has lost a yard of pace from his peak of a few seasons ago while Dias doesn’t have the pace of some of his peers. Van de Ven is quicker across the ground than Saliba, but can be dribbled past – as Newcastle United centre forward Alexander Isak brutally exposed in a match last month.

Manchester United’s attackers found out how difficult it is to dribble past Saliba on Sunday. The Frenchman made more than one well-timed tackle to stop the Old Trafford side from making the most of their opportunities in quick transition with Alejandro Garnacho particularly quelled by the Arsenal centre back.

No other central defender in the Premier League right now is as well-rounded as Saliba whose greatest quality is the composure he plays with. This brings a sense of calm to the Arsenal backline with Gabriel Magalhaes the perfect partner for Saliba in that the Brazilian offers natural aggression. The Gunners have balance at the back.

“He had an immediate impact. The first two training sessions that we looked at home we went: ‘There’s huge potential here’,” said Arteta, casting his mind back to Saliba returning to Arsenal from a loan spell at Marseille. “He took out every question mark that we could have with him and gave us all the reasons to play him. And I think he’s been exceptional since that day.”

At just 23, Saliba will continue to improve as he gains more experience at the elite level of English and European football. This was his first season in the Champions League and so Saliba will only get better with every match against high-calibre opponents. At his current level, though, the Frenchman might already be close to his peak.

Even if Arsenal miss out on the Premier League title this season, Arteta has put in place the building blocks to keep the Gunners competitive for honours in the years to come. They have assembled a talented, young squad and this is perhaps best embodied by Saliba who continues to get better with almost every match he plays.