Carragher compares Arsenal newcomer to elite Liverpool star, explaining ‘immediate impact’ of transformative tactical aspect
Jamie Carragher has explained why William Saliba is proving himself as the “perfect fit” at Arsenal – and has even gone as far as likening his impact to that of Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool.
Saliba has finally become part of the Arsenal squad this season, after originally signing for the club in 2019. Although they spent a fairly substantial sum on him, there was no immediate place for the Frenchman.
After three loan spells away from the Emirates Stadium – including an impressive stint with Marseille last season – Saliba has finally come into contention for a first-team place this season. He has certainly been making up for lost time.
Last season, Arsenal relied on a centre-back partnership of Gabriel Magalhaes and Benjamin White. In contrast, this time around Saliba has forced his way into the starting lineup.
He has been ever-present in their eight Premier League matches so far, dislodging White as Gabriel’s main partner. He has even managed to score two goals for Mikel Arteta’s side.
There will be a tough test of his abilities on Sunday. Arsenal are ready to return to Premier League action against last season’s runners up Liverpool. Saliba will be occupied with attackers like Mohamed Salah, Luis Diaz, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota or Roberto Firmino.
With plenty of stars to come up against, Saliba will have to be at the top of his game. But there is another big name at the opposite end of the pitch whom Carragher feels he could be on his way to replicating.
Indeed, the former Liverpool defender believes there are shadows of what Virgil van Dijk has done for Jurgen Klopp’s side in the way Saliba is tactically transforming Arsenal.
Saliba strengthens formerly flaky defence
Carragher wrote in his column for the Daily Telegraph: “At Arsenal, the integration of William Saliba and signing of Gabriel Jesus have elevated the team’s performances to a point where they look like a top-four team again.
“Saliba is a modern centre-back in the Van Dijk mould. 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.
“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.
“There is an echo of Van Dijk’s early months at Anfield. 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.
“So far, Saliba has been the perfect fit for Arteta, although he will occasionally show inexperience. His misjudgement enabled Marcus Rashford to score on the counter.
“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.”
Defender finally earning Arsenal place
Currently top of the Premier League at this early stage, Arsenal have only suffered one defeat. As Carragher referred to, it was in the game against Manchester United in early September.
They threatened to return to the top four last season only to fall short at the last hurdle. This time around, they want to establish themselves among the Champions League territory.
The impact of Saliba – as well as another new face like striker Jesus – is giving them fresh optimism about completing that long-awaited task.
With European football on the schedule as well, Arsenal will hope to be competitive all season long. In the bigger picture, they will hope to tie down key performers like Saliba to longer contracts.
His deal with the club is due to run until 2024. But it looks as if he already warrants upgraded terms.
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