Since his Premier League debut against Crystal Palace at the beginning of the season, William Saliba has become a key part of this revolutionised Arsenal defence.
If you think back to the early stages of Mikel Arteta’s tenure as Arsenal manager, the defence consisting of Sokratis and David Luiz was drastically different to the one we have now: Saliba is a huge reason for this.
The Frenchman’s performances last season in Ligue 1 gave Arteta confidence in the 21-year-old that his time would come at Arsenal. This has been shown. Saliba has been named in every Premier League starting XI this season – a sign that Arteta has found his trusted backline.
The former Saint Etienne defender has quickly become adored by Arsenal fans. In the match where Saliba scored his first Premier League goal, a wonderful left-footed strike against AFC Bournemouth, the travelling fans were continually singing his name. He had announced himself to the Arsenal faithful.
But we currently find ourselves in a different situation. No doubt, Saliba has been good this season, but is it time to start worrying about his erroneous ways?
It’s starting to become a worrying trend. In both matches since the restart after the World Cup, Saliba has made an error that has resulted in a goal. Firstly, against West Ham United, then against Brighton & Hove Albion.
His mistimed slide on Jarrod Bowen brought the Englishman down in the box and forced Michael Oliver to point to the spot. While against Brighton, he let Evan Ferguson pounce after getting his feet tangled.
Some will claim rustiness from the World Cup, and that’s certainly a fair argument. The 21-year-old’s lack of time on the field was disappointing but he was training with some of the world’s best: this is no doubt a good thing.
But these mistakes aren’t a new thing. Saliba’s handball, albeit unlucky, quite literally handed Leeds United a route back into the contest, but the Gunners were fortunate that the spot kick was taken by Patrick Bamford. Even before that, Saliba headed the ball past Aaron Ramsdale against Leicester City on his home debut.
In the end, these two errors were costly, but they were mistakes nonetheless.
A bright future ahead
However, Saliba’s mistakes don’t define him as a player. While his recent performances have been undermined by a couple of mishaps, the Frenchman’s future is clearly bright and with some luck, it will be at the Emirates.
As Arsene Wenger said: “You pay for the education of young players with points. If I play a 20-year-old centre-back, I know he’ll cost me points during the season and I have to stand up for that. A less talented 28-year-old would cost me less points. However, by 23/24, you have a player.”
This is the scenario we find ourselves in. Saliba is not the finished product just yet and may well cost Arsenal a few points in the season (his most notable errors haven’t yet), but his progression is only going to develop with playtime. There’s no need to worry about him for now.