How do we solve a problem like Saliba?


How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand

How do you keep a CB on the bench? How do you—okay, that’s enough of The Sound of Music for one post. We’ve gone without Saliba for four matches now, having drawn the last two in ways that dramatically highlighted just how badly we need him (and how thin our bench is). With Arteta offering grim news, it’s starting to feel like the Prem is slip-slidin’ away…

You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip slidin’ away…Anyway, here’s Arteta’s update:

He’s not progressing as quickly as we hoped and it is a bit delicate so we want to be certain that when we push him, he’s ready to absorb the load and the risk that we’ll take, and that’s not possible at the moment. “There is some evolution, he’s doing more activity but is not there yet to start to throw him into the pitch at the level the sessions demand to compete in this league.

Those of you still trying to recover from seeing West Ham’ Michael Antonio terrorise Rob Holding last weekend may want to avoid reading the sentence that follows. For as much as Holding struggled against Antonio, Erling Haaland may literally destroy him. I’m not using “literally” figuratively, by the way. Our only hope without Saliba is that Man City will press us back so much that Holding never finds himself one-on-one against Haaland with space behind. However, Saliba’s defensive prowess is only part of what we’re missing.

He’s also far superior to Holding with the ball at his feet. Just look at those stats. Saliba is instrumental to our possession, build-up play, and attack. Without him, we struggled to unlock Liverpool and West Ham after our initial early surges, due in part to Holding’s more-conservative and less-accurate passing. Attacking players like Saka and Odegaard get less service. White has to play more conservatively, further depleting Saka or service or support.

This one injury—exacerbated by the injury to Tomiyasu, which prevents us playing White at CB—has played a significant role in our slowing down. Maybe we’re not bottling it. Maybe we’re missing a player who’s vital to our attack despite being a CB.

Maybe, just maybe, Arteta is simply being coy or even duplicitous about Saliba’s status. We shouldn’t need him against Southampton, or are those famous last words? Allowing Saliba to recuperate and hopefully gather strength for our trip to the Etihad while publicly bemoaning the slow pace of his recovery and doubting his availability may be nothing more than gamesmanship from Arteta.

Let’s just hope that’s what he’s up to…

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6 thoughts on “How do we solve a problem like Saliba?

  1. Mike

    without him, we’re done for. we have to win our remaining six without him, that might be possible but we need a draw at least at the Etihad. That ain’t happening unless Haaland’s motherboard goes on the fritz.

    1. Jon Shay Post author

      “Done for” might just overstate it. We’ve lost some momentum to be sure, but it’s too early to despair. Who knows? Maybe Holding will turn up with a masterclass along the lines of what he delivered against Diego Costa in that FA Cup final…

  2. Jax

    In the likelihood of Haaland making Holding his bitch, perhaps Arteta would move White into the centre with the other two.

    1. Jon Shay

      I’ve thought about White moving back to CB, but this is a challenge due to Tomiyasu’s injury – who plays on the right? I suppose we could try Tierney there, assuming Zinchenko is fit to play on the left. It’s tricky, to say the least.

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