Former Liverpool captain Jamie Carragher has compared William Saliba to Virgil van Dijk as the two centre-backs prepare to go toe-to-toe in the Premier League on Sunday.
Saliba has been impressive since returning to Arsenal over the summer, building on the form he showed on loan at Marseille. The French international has started all eight of the Gunners’ Premier League games, scoring in wins over Bournemouth and Brentford, with Mikel Arteta’s team sitting top of the pile.
The 21-year-old will be put through his paces on Sunday, with Liverpool visiting Emirates Stadium looking to reignite their own top-four push. While Carragher has pointed to some early errors of judgement, he was full of praise for a man who has helped the London side find another gear after finishing fifth last term.
“Saliba is a modern centre-back in the Van Dijk mould,” Carragher wrote in his column for the Daily Telegraph. “He is fast enough to deal with the quickest strikers, aerially strong to cope with target men, and comfortable in possession to ensure his side can play from the back.”
“Yes, these are early days and Saliba has a long way to go to match Van Dijk’s long-term influence at Liverpool, but he has had an immediate impact on how structurally sound a previously flaky defence looks,” the 44-year-old continued. “The major tactical difference a player such as Saliba makes is in enabling the team to play higher up the pitch, trusting their pacey, multi-faceted centre-half to react if strikers try to get in behind.”
In eight games with Saliba partnering Gabriel at the back, Arsenal have recorded seven wins and conceded just eight goals. At the same stage last season, Arteta’s men had already shipped 12 goals.
While Saliba has done more than enough to keep his starting spot as others return from injury, his record has not been spotless. He scored an own goal against Leicester and was caught out in Arsenal’s sole defeat, away to Manchester United.
“So far, Saliba has been the perfect fit for Arteta, although he will occasionally show inexperience,” Carragher added. “His misjudgement enabled Marcus Rashford to score on the counter-attack at Old Trafford recently.
“Arsenal paid a heavy price, losing a game they should have won. Although that is the only blemish this season, it demonstrated where Arsenal must improve to get close to the extraordinary standards set by Liverpool and Manchester City.”
The Gunners are a point clear at the top of the table ahead of their meeting with Liverpool, who are down in ninth after winning just two of their seven league games. However, with second-place Manchester City facing Southampton on Saturday, Saliba and his teammates may have lost top spot by the time they kick off.