Arsenal duo praised for being ‘opposite extreme’ to Casemiro; ‘perfect’ moment v Man Utd identified

Jason Soutar
Arsenal defenders William Saliba and Gabriel celebrate a goal
William Saliba and Gabriel celebrate a goal

Martin Keown was high in praise of Arsenal defender William Saliba after his impressive performance against Manchester United on Sunday.

Saliba was named player of the match after helping Arsenal keep a clean sheet at Old Trafford, his 18th in the Premier League this campaign.

The Gunners are back on top of the table following their 1-0 victory, which came thanks to Leandro Trossard’s 21st-minute goal.

Arsenal’s defensive structure allowed Manchester United to have plenty of the ball but goalkeeper David Raya was not tested all game, with Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes protecting the Spaniard’s goal very well.

Following another rock-solid showing at the back for Arsenal, Keown has waxed lyrical about the French defender and hailed his centre-back partnership with Gabriel.

“Arsenal’s defensive improvement this season has helped them go the distance in the title race, and it was the platform for their win over United too,” Keown told BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

“There were times during the game where all 10 of their outfield players were behind the ball around the edge of their own area. Everyone was in position, they were dogged and resolute and it was like they put up a shield and were saying to United ‘Can you get past us?’

“United couldn’t get through which meant that, even when they were seeing a lot of the ball, they ended up getting frustrated and shooting from distance when they probably should have tried to play an extra pass.

“Arsenal have gone on the attack in most of their games this season but we have also seen them play this way before – it was the same when they drew with Manchester City at the end of March. Their whole team had the same mindset, or shared defensive brain, against United and at the heart of it were Gabriel and Saliba.

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“They have played together in 33 of Arsenal’s 37 league games this season and their partnership on Sunday was like the opposite extreme of Jonny Evans and Casemiro, who are United’s latest pairing at the back. Casemiro is not a specialist centre-half and it really showed.

“Gabriel is a very physical player who is able to swat attackers away, while Saliba’s style is more silky and smooth.

“They are different types of defenders but they get in good positions and make the right decisions, and it is the way they work together and cover each other that makes their partnership so special.

“It obviously helps they clearly enjoy playing alongside each other but, whatever the situation was against United, one of them would always see the danger and deal with it.”

Former Arsenal centre-back Keown points out a moment in the match when Saliba performed an outstanding sliding tackle on Garnacho in his own box.

“There are so many things they did that impressed me but Saliba’s challenge on Alejandro Garnacho really stood out,” he continued. “It was the perfect example of how to deal with a forward running at you inside the area in a one-on-one situation.

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“Saliba stayed light on his feet and did not overreact or dive in too quickly. He created a barrier and then he put a foot in – his left foot, which is not his strongest – to make the challenge with absolutely perfect timing.

“He made it look very easy, but then that is what great players do, and he is on the way to becoming one of them.”

Keown added that Gabriel’s performances this season should have seen him nominated for the Premier League player of the season award.

“The 23-year-old France international has made the shortlist for the Premier League young player of the year but, along with Gabriel, I actually felt he should be in the mix for the main award,” he said. “Both of them have been that good, all season.”

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