William Saliba’s Chance to Shine?

Arsenal, William Saliba (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal, William Saliba (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images) /

Surely there has never been a better time to introduce the Premier League to William Saliba.

This coming after news emerges of Shkodran Mustafi rejecting a contract extension at Arsenal, hot on the heels of David Luiz’s latest injury issues and our abject display against Leicester City,

The arrival of Saliba to the club has not quite gone according to plan, in supporters’ minds at least. His £27m transfer from Saint-Etienne last summer generated plenty of excitement among the fanbase, although I for one had never heard of him before!

Nevertheless, the fact that Arsenal, a club traditionally associated with having tight purse strings, were willing to invest significantly in a relatively unknown talent naturally led us to believe that we were signing a defensive prodigy, someone who would be a mainstay in the side for years to come.

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Perhaps that was putting too much pressure on him, although, after spending years feasting on the very best that Sébastian Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel had to offer, who could blame us?

The club’s prudence tempered our expectations as the teenager returned to Saint-Etienne on a season-long loan to continue his development, much of which was marred by injury. Saliba finally arrived at the club this summer but has been limited to appearances in the Premier League 2 thus far. His young age, inexperience at the highest level and a family bereavement have led Mikel Arteta to integrate him slowly to life in England.

Continuing his journey to the senior squad, Saliba spent last week training with the first team, and his absence from the Under-23 side’s defeat to Manchester City suggested that his Premier League opportunity would arrive at the weekend. Instead, it was Mustafi who returned to the squad after his own injury lay-off and, having been left out of our Europa League squad for the group stages, the Frenchman will not play until our trip to Old Trafford at the earliest.

During our hugely disappointing display against the Foxes on Sunday night, our greatest attacking threat in the first half came courtesy of the boot of David Luiz. The Brazilian’s impressive range of passing split the Foxes’ defence time and time again which looked by far our most likely route to the opener.

However, Luiz’s withdrawal early in the second half caused us to completely surrender our control on proceedings. We became increasingly erratic and wasteful in possession and, before long, our old problems regarding concentration and sensing the danger came back to haunt us.

The repercussions of Luiz’s substitution are a damning indictment of the creative options in the squad. From the 11 shots and three on target that we managed in the opening 45 minutes, we only mustered a solitary effort in the second half. We simply did not trouble the Leicester defence as the game progressed and we resorted to our all-too-familiar conservative playing style – relentlessly passing sideways and backwards.

While Arteta seems to believe Saliba is not yet ready for the rigours of first-team football, surely we must give him the chance to prove himself before arriving at such a verdict.

Coming off the bench instead of Mustafi would have been the ideal time for his Emirates bow and, ironically, two of his best qualities may have made the difference. His eye for a pass would have enabled him to take up the creative mantle from Luiz, while his pace allows him to cover plenty of ground and may have prevented Leicester’s breakaway winner.

To compound our frustration, his former Saint-Etienne teammate, Wesley Fofana, has taken to the league like a duck to water and has made good on the opportunities he has been given, including an excellent performance in north London.

Personally, I think that Saliba should be given his chance on Sunday for the trip to Manchester United. We have given far too much respect to our opponents this season and haven’t imposed ourselves enough on games.

In addition, the Red Devils have struggled badly in the opening weeks and are yet to win at home this term (it’s going to be us, isn’t it?).

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I implore Arteta to play his best defence this weekend (which includes Saliba) and give his side the licence to attack. This United team are there for the taking and, if our approach is similar to last time, Saliba may be the difference.