On Saturday afternoon, when William Saliba was heading in the direction of the dressing room on the Emirates Stadium after Arsenal‘s 3-1 win towards Tottenham, his first victory in a North London derby, Peter Mujuzi, the membership’s DJ/PA announcer, had a brilliant concept. He performed The Champs’ traditional track “Tequila,” which Arsenal followers have became a Saliba track by shouting the Frenchman’s title as a substitute of the signature lyric.
As Saliba was about to vanish into the tunnel, the entire stadium chanted his title in track. The 21-year-old defender applauded the followers in thanks with an enormous grin on his face. The Paris-born-and-bred participant is already a followers’ favorite and, extra importantly, has been the most effective centre-backs within the Premier League up to now this season. But his success and fast adaptation to one of many world’s finest leagues is not any shock if the previous Saint-Etienne defender.
Saliba’s expertise has been apparent since he made his Ligue 1 debut with Les Verts at 17 years outdated in September 2018. He’d solely moved to the membership’s academy two years earlier after taking part in for a few years with Bondy, within the north suburbs of Paris, the place he’s from, and with a sure Wilfried Mbappe — father of Kylian Mbappe — as a coach, earlier than then starring with Montfermeil.
Nevertheless, greater than his expertise, Saliba’s persona units him aside from different gamers. He has supreme confidence in his personal capability and isn’t fazed by strain or expectations. Rising up within the Paris banlieues was powerful: he discovered the sport by taking part in on the streets, on concrete, towards greater and stronger boys. So he needed to be confident, stable and hungry, in any other case he wouldn’t have made the minimize. He replicated the identical sense of confidence when he joined Arsenal for preseason this previous summer time.
Saliba was conscious that not many individuals on the membership knew him when he got here again to London. Three years after signing for €30 million, he had spent his total trip on mortgage to Saint-Etienne, Good and Marseille to achieve expertise. Marseille wished to maintain him on a everlasting deal and tried every thing to take action within the final switch window, however Arsenal rebuffed their proposal. PSG additionally saved an eye fixed on him, whereas different massive European golf equipment, like Barcelona, had him on their shortlists too, however Arsenal and Mikel Arteta had been by no means going to let him go. They preferred what they noticed from him in Ligue 1 final season (as did France coach Didier Deschamps, who known as him as much as the senior aspect in March) and Saliba’s potential was too good to lose.
In the long run, it solely took a number of coaching periods for everybody at Arsenal to understand what a gem that they had. Quietly, however impressively, he’s establishing his place within the crew and comparisons with Virgil van Dijk are in full circulate earlier than Liverpool arrive on the Emirates on Sunday.
Saliba’s stats up to now are scary. In opposition to Tottenham and Harry Kane final weekend, no opponent accomplished a dribble towards him. He recovered the ball 11 instances, which is greater than every other defender in a single recreation this season. He made six passes into the ultimate third, received 5 duels and made three clearances, whereas additionally being a menace on set items and even nutmegging Spurs midfielder Oliver Skipp.
Two weeks after shutting down Ivan Toney at Brentford, he did the identical with Kane, and this weekend presents one other check, with any one among Mohamed Salah, Darwin Nunez, Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz lining up towards him. Saliba will not concern it; he is pleased to have lastly damaged by at Arsenal the place he can do his job with dedication, confidence and momentum. He’s relishing the problem as he all the time needs to check himself towards one of the best, studying and bettering with the World Cup on the horizon. (He has solely made seven appearances for Les Bleus, however all of them have been in 2022, which bodes properly for his possibilities of making the ultimate squad in Qatar.)
Over the entire season, Saliba’s stats are excellent. He’s really but to be overwhelmed on the dribble and is but to make an error resulting in a aim. He has received possession probably the most amongst defenders in your entire league, however can be within the high 5 for probably the most carries with the ball (14,115m in solely eight video games and 720 minutes.)
Saliba performs as a part of Arsenal’s excessive defensive position and his pressures in midfield are very important for Arteta and the crew, as we noticed towards Tottenham. It is no marvel that Arsenal wish to signal him to a brand new long-term contract. His present one, signed again in 2018, expires in June 2024 and talks have solely simply began over an extension.
On Tuesday, when the Gunners arrange for his or her annual crew picture, there was only one place for Saliba. Proper there, in the course of all of it: massive, imposing, stable. That is his character. He isn’t the loudest, however his self-belief resonates. His Arsenal teammates have been singing his “Tequila” chant within the dressing room and can hope to do the identical this weekend as they witness the emergence of a particular participant.