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Opinion: The £25m leader to kick-start new era at Arsenal this summer

Let’s start with the most stating-the-obvious line possible: Arsenal are a mess defensively.

Remarkably, the Gunners have let in 102 goals in their last two seasons in the Premier League – 51 each in their final campaign under Arsene Wenger and their first under Unai Emery.

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Clearly, the change from an attack-minded manager who liked not to over-load his players with tactics, to a strict, obsessive and more reactive manager has not made much of a difference to how the side has performed at the back.

The mistakes, the lack of concentration, the lack of organisation and of leadership, are all still there.

Perhaps then, it’s time for Arsenal to sign some better defenders?

Of course, the Gunners cannot simply go and splash out £75-100m on a Virgil van Dijk or a Kalidou Koulibaly, so they’ll have to be smart and snap up a potential bargain buy on the market this summer.

Here’s a look at one we think could be the answer to their problems next season and beyond…

Who is he?

He’s William Saliba, an 18-year-old centre-back currently plying his trade for Saint-Etienne in Ligue 1.

Despite his young age and inexperience, Saliba played 19 games in all competitions in 2018/19, looking the real deal when he stepped out onto the pitch to play alongside and against players who were for the most part a great deal older than him.

saliba-st-etienne

William Saliba has shone for Saint-Etienne

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It takes special characters to be able to do that and hold their own, and there’s undoubtedly a confidence and authority about the way the French teenager plays.

As well as being strong and commanding with his challenges and clearances, Saliba relishes getting on the ball, looking comfortable at playing out from the back by either taking an attacker or midfielder on with a piece of skill, or by picking out a pass.

In almost every sense, Saliba looks to be the modern defender – a well-rounded, complete performer who would be very much at home in Emery’s set-up, which is built around a high press and playing out from the back.

With Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis Papastathopoulos both over 30, a young player seems a better bet to fit in with this demanding style, and Saliba looks to have the ability and mentality to immediately become a key player for AFC.

Season highlights

Take a look at this video below as one of a number of examples of Saliba’s impressive playing style and achievements so far.

There’s undoubtedly a maturity beyond his years there, and plenty of evidence to suggest he’d have little trouble settling in to the more physically demanding Premier League.

How much would he cost?

According to Goal, who have linked him as a target for Arsenal, the France Under-19 international is already valued at as much as £25million.

That’s unquestionably a lot to pay for an 18-year-old with fewer than 20 first-team appearances under his belt, but it shows just how highly he’s regarded.

It also gives an idea of the changing transfer market and how expensive anyone else with more experience is likely to be.

We’ve mentioned Van Dijk and Koulibaly above, and the Sun even claim Harry Maguire could cost as much as £90m from Leicester City.

Arsenal will undoubtedly be taking a gamble on Saliba, but it looks like one that could very quickly look like a bargain.

william-saliba

William Saliba is a rumoured transfer target for Arsenal

Where next?

As noted above, Goal have linked Saliba with Arsenal, while French source Le 10 Sport have also linked him with Manchester United in recent times.

The Red Devils are another side facing a bit of a defensive crisis, and who could do with a new leader to form a key part of their back line for years to come.

Goal’s report suggests Arsenal are showing the strongest interest at the moment, and he very much fits the bill in terms of the type of player the north Londoners need and can afford.

They will surely need to be quick, however, or this risky-looking move for a relative novice could quickly turn into another transfer failure from a club with a long list of big names they missed out on at a young age.

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More Stories Laurent Koscielny Raphael Varane Shkodran Mustafi sokratis papastathopoulos Unai Emery William Saliba