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Premier League • England

William Saliba: Rio Ferdinand urges Arsenal fans to ‘give the boy some time’ amid legend comparison

William Saliba of Arsenal

Rio Ferdinand has issued a response after young Arsenal defender William Saliba was compared to him.

Arsenal spent £27million three years ago to bring Saliba into their ranks from Saint-Etienne. He went on spend the next three seasons on loan away from the club, at Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille respectively.

The centre-back is finally in the Arsenal squad and is looking to impress manager Mikel Arteta.

He has clearly done well in training as he has played a full 90 minutes in both of Arsenal’s Premier League matches so far. He is forming a good defensive partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes, while Ben White has been forced out to right-back.

Following Saliba’s Arsenal debut against Crystal Palace, Gary Neville compared the Frenchman to legendary Premier League defender Ferdinand. “I was massively impressed by him. He reminded me of a young Rio Ferdinand,” Neville said.

“He’s such a young defender at 21. Getting through that second half, when Arsenal weren’t at their best, would have been the most pleasing thing for Mikel Arteta.”

While appearing on his Vibe with Five YouTube channel, Ferdinand was asked about the comparison. He thinks Saliba is ‘doing well’, though Arsenal fans and TV pundits shouldn’t get ahead of themselves just yet due to the player’s tender age.

“How many Premier League games has he played?,” Ferdinand asked (via Metro). “How many Premier League games had I played at that point?

William Saliba comparisons are ‘a madness’ right now – Rio Ferdinand

“I broke the British transfer record at that time and people are drawing comparisons? It’s a madness! Give the boy some time!

“He’s doing well. But you don’t judge players when it’s all going well. You say ‘brilliant, I’d like to see the next phase’.

“When it all goes against you and it’s a little bit of distress I still want to see the chest popping out, I still want to see shoulders back and I still want to see you wanting the ball and see you on the front foot with that determination and desire. [That’s] a lot of what we’re not getting at Man Utd.

“But Saliba is showing great potential. Young player of the year in France last year. He’s got a lot to do to make sure he stays in the team but he’s started off very, very well.”

Ferdinand raises a solid point. Saliba is only two games into his Prem career. And while he has looked comfortable in those outings, he has got to do it for a longer period of time before the comparisons with Ferdinand can be justified.

His return from loan is like a new signing for Arsenal. He is another centre-back Arteta can rely on amid the pursuit of Europa League glory and a top four spot in the Prem.

White and Gabriel were Arteta’s first-choice centre-back pairing last season. Saliba has immediately disrupted this selection, which shows just how good he is. And with plenty of years to develop, the Saint-Etienne academy graduate could eventually become a top defender.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Pepe has a new potential suitor in Europe as he looks to end his underwhelming spell at Arsenal.