William Saliba will arrive at Arsenal this summer as an assumed starter. But relying on a 19-year-old to start from the off is risky, no matter how talented he may be.
Arsenal signed William Saliba last summer as a long-term solution to their centre-back problems. The heart of their defence has been a major weakness for well over a decade, and despite increasing attention paid to the position in recent years, including a £35 million signing, little improvements have been made.
Saliba, though, is viewed as a genuinely elite talent. While still just a teenager, the Gunners were convinced that the Frenchman would be a star and were happy to invest a year earlier despite the added risk for a cheaper fee.
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And there is reason to think that the centre-back could be special. In fact, plenty of said of their belief of Saliba’s special qualities. This week, former Gunners defender Mikael Silvestre gave his opinion of Saliba, and it is rather positive, to say the least:
“William Saliba will start from the get-go when he joins Arsenal next season. He’s currently playing for a struggling Saint-Etienne side, but his performances have been good and he’s been consistent. Defensively he’s strong, so he’ll be looking to impress in pre-season. He’ll need to adapt in that period, but he has enough time to learn from the Arsenal staff and players. He’s still very young but has great experience from his time in Ligue 1. He’ll continue to learn from the current centre-backs but he’ll have a big part to play from day one.”
However, while Saliba is supremely talented and widely thought of, relying on a 19-year-old to start at centre-back in a top-four-challenging team is risky, to say the least. Saliba might be special, yes, but there are very few teenagers who are ready and able to start on a weekly basis in the Premier League.
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And this is especially true at centre-back. Whereas in offensive positions, mistakes are not criminal. Taking risks is, in fact, a positive and encouraged. You rarely create a chance or score a goal without at least one individual making a risky decision. But in defensive positions, reliability and consistency are much more important qualities.
Because of this, attacking positions are much more accustomed to the inconsistencies and unpredictability of young players. Defensive roles, on the other hand, are not. It is why you do not see many world-class centre-backs as teenagers. Mistakes are punished, and young players make plenty of mistakes. Throw in the fact that Saliba
So yes, Saliba might be viewed as a special talent. And yes, he might buck the trend and be an automatic and effective starter next season. But in reality, relying on a teenager to anchor your defence is risky.