Arsenal debutant William Saliba came in for some glowing praise from Gary Neville after the France defender marked his first appearance for the club with a win and clean sheet.
The French defender signed for Arsenal way back in July 2019, signing in a £27m deal from St Etienne while still a teenager. Since then, Saliba has been on a series of loans, with the latest of those – with Marseille last season – earning the star enormous acclaim. As such, we exclusively revealed back in April how Mikel Arteta was planning to bring him into his first-team plans in 2022/23.
It was while at Marseille that Saliba really came of age. He was named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Season, and was also selected in the Ligue 1 Team of the Season. Furthermore, he also earned five senior caps for Didier Deschamps’ France side.
To that end, he has returned to Arsenal this summer very much like a new signing.
And while big things are expected, one former Tottenham star outrageously claimed Saliba is not good enough and needs to be sold.
However, Arteta has his own ideas and that meant that Friday night’s Premier League curtain raiser was the first time Saliba has kicked a ball for the Gunners.
And the Frenchman did not disappoint, turning in a man of the match performance that had Neville purring.
The Frenchman topped the charts for most tackles won, most clearances made during the match. And when Palace piled on the pressure second half, Saliba was on hand to ensure there was no way through for Patrick Vieira’s side.
Speaking after the 2-0 win, Neville told Sky Sports how the defender reminded him of a former Manchester United teammate.
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“I think the most important thing for young players is just to play,” Neville told Sky Sports. “He’s got football inside him, I was massively impressed by him. He reminded me of a young Rio Ferdinand.
“Crystal Palace away is a tough away game in the Premier League. They come at you. That’s a big night for him.”
Those comments were reflected by Jamie Carragher, who also very much likes what he sees in the 21-year-old.
He added: “I thought he was really good. He looks the part, he looks a good player.
“I think Arsenal fans have been excited for this lad for a while… he looks the real deal. Bringing him in certainly adds something. Just his physical stature, will certainly help them in tough away games.”
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Saliba himself was equally delighted by his debut, and admits it is a moment he has long been waiting for.
“It’s been a long time I’ve waited for this moment, I’m so happy to start my first game with a win and a clean sheet,” he said. “It’s never easy, you have to give your maximum and it was good.
“This is the first game, it’s important to win for the confidence and to start the season well.”
Arteta has come in for cricisim for sending Saliba on various loan deals. They include spells back at St Etienne, Nice and, most recently, with Marseille.
However, he insists he understands Arsenal’s decision-making and insists they have helped him grow as a player.
“It helped me because I’m young, I need to play. Now I’m back, I hope we will have a good season.”
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Arteta was also equally thrilled, adding calmness at the back of William Saliba was a big factor in the win.
“You don’t really see that at 21-years-old for a debut in the Premier League. And against this opponent where you face difficult players and resolve the situation the way he’s done it with that composure, with that calmness and with that presence. So big credit to the boy.”