On Saturday afternoon, when William Saliba used to be heading against the dressing room on the Emirates Stadium after Arsenal’s 3-1 win in opposition to Tottenham, his first victory in a North London derby, Peter Mujuzi, the membership’s DJ/PA announcer, had a vivid concept. He performed The Champs’ vintage track “Tequila,” which Arsenal enthusiasts have changed into a Saliba track by way of shouting the Frenchman’s title as a substitute of the signature lyric.
As Saliba used to be about to vanish into the tunnel, the entire stadium chanted his title in track. The 21-year-old defender applauded the enthusiasts in thank you with an enormous grin on his face. The Paris-born-and-bred participant is already a enthusiasts’ favorite and, extra importantly, has been one of the most absolute best centre-backs within the Premier League to this point this season. Yet his good fortune and fast adaptation to one of the most international’s absolute best leagues isn’t surprising if you understand the previous Saint-Etienne defender.
Saliba’s ability has been evident since he made his Ligue 1 debut with Les Verts at 17 years previous in September 2018. He’d most effective moved to the membership’s academy two years previous after enjoying for a few years with Bondy, within the north suburbs of Paris, the place he’s from, and with a definite Wilfried Mbappe — father of Kylian Mbappe — as a trainer, ahead of then starring with Montfermeil.
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However, greater than his ability, Saliba’s character units him with the exception of different gamers. He has preferrred self belief in his personal talent and isn’t fazed by way of power or expectancies. Growing up within the Paris banlieues used to be tricky: he discovered the sport by way of enjoying at the streets, on concrete, in opposition to larger and more potent boys. So he needed to be confident, cast and hungry, another way he do not have made the reduce. He replicated the similar sense of self belief when he joined Arsenal for preseason this previous summer time.
Saliba used to be conscious that no longer many of us on the membership knew him when he got here again to London. Three years after signing for €30 million, he had spent his complete day trip on mortgage to Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille to achieve enjoy. Marseille sought after to stay him on an everlasting deal and attempted the entirety to take action within the final switch window, but Arsenal rebuffed their proposal. PSG additionally stored a watch on him, whilst different giant European golf equipment, like Barcelona, had him on their shortlists too, but Arsenal and Mikel Arteta had been by no means going to let him cross. They preferred what they noticed from him in Ligue 1 final season (as did France trainer Didier Deschamps, who referred to as him as much as the senior aspect in March) and Saliba’s possible used to be too excellent to lose.
In the top, it most effective took a couple of coaching classes for everybody at Arsenal to understand what a gem that they had. Quietly, but impressively, he’s setting up his position within the group and comparisons with Virgil van Dijk are in complete waft ahead of Liverpool arrive on the Emirates on Sunday.
Saliba’s stats to this point are horrifying. Against Tottenham and Harry Kane final weekend, no opponent finished a dribble in opposition to him. He recovered the ball 11 occasions, which is greater than some other defender in one recreation this season. He made six passes into the general 3rd, gained 5 duels and made 3 clearances, whilst additionally being a danger on set items or even nutmegging Spurs midfielder Oliver Skipp.
Two weeks after shutting down Ivan Toney at Brentford, he did the similar with Kane, and this weekend items every other test, with any one in every of Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz lining up in opposition to him. Saliba may not worry it; he is satisfied to have in the end damaged thru at Arsenal the place he can do his task with dedication, self belief and momentum. He is relishing the problem as he all the time desires to test himself in opposition to the most efficient, finding out and making improvements to with the World Cup at the horizon. (He has most effective made seven appearances for Les Bleus, but they all had been in 2022, which bodes neatly for his probabilities of making the general squad in Qatar.)
Over the entire season, Saliba’s stats are remarkable. He is in reality but to be crushed at the dribble and is but to make an error resulting in a function. He has gained ownership essentially the most amongst defenders in all of the league, but may be within the most sensible 5 for essentially the most carries with the ball (14,115m in most effective 8 video games and 720 mins.)
Saliba performs as a part of Arsenal’s top line of defense and his pressures in midfield are important for Arteta and the group, as we noticed in opposition to Tottenham. It’s no marvel that Arsenal need to signal him to a brand new long-term contract. His present one, signed again in 2018, expires in June 2024 and talks have most effective simply began over an extension.
On Tuesday, when the Gunners arrange for their annual group photograph, there used to be only one position for Saliba. Right there, in the course of all of it: giant, enforcing, cast. This is his personality. He isn’t the loudest, but his self-belief resonates. His Arsenal teammates had been making a song his “Tequila” chant within the dressing room and will hope to do the similar this weekend as they witness the emergence of a distinct participant.