DANIEL MATTHEWS: It’s early days but William Saliba’s display at Crystal Palace shows patience has paid off for the French defender… his second coming at Arsenal showed both composure and finesse
- William Saliba made his first start for the Gunners in win over Crystal Palace
- The French centre-back was named man-of-the-match in Arsenal’s 2-0 victory
- The 21-year-old joined from Saint-Etienne in 2019 but has struggled to perform
- A goal from Gabriel Martinelli and a Palace own goal secured the three points
Three debuts, two new faces, one man the Arsenal fans longed to see above all.
They had been waiting a while, in fairness. William Saliba first arrived in north London in 2019. Arsenal paid £27million for the then-teenage defender. On Friday night, after three years and three loan spells in France, a competitive bow at last.
You can forgive those who wondered whether this day would ever come.
You can understand why, for some, a first sighting of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko was always going to play second fiddle. While he was away, an almost cultish zeal developed around the 21-year-old Frenchman.
William Saliba signed for the Gunners in 2019, before going on three loan spells in France
The French international was named man of the match for his efforts at the heart of defence
Arguably Saliba’s biggest task last night was not repelling Crystal Palace but somehow sating all the anticipation.
Did he succeed? Could he possibly succeed?
Well, he left Selhurst Park with a clean sheet, a victory and the man of the match award after a display of composure and finesse. Early days, of course but this was a night that suggests Arsenal’s investment will pay dividends at last.
Early signs this summer had already persuaded Mikel Arteta that it was worth moving Ben White to right back to slot the Frenchman alongside Gabriel Magalhaes. There was little here to suggest this winning formula needs tweaking – even when Takehiro Tomiyasu is fully fit once more.
There were wobbles after the break, too, when Saliba misjudged a cross and then failed to cut out a through-ball to Eberechi Eze. Fortunately Aaron Ramsdale kept Arsenal in front.
Arsenal won 2-0 at Selhurst Park thanks to a goal from Gabriel Martinelli and a Palace OG
But then came another couple of clean, chopping tackles on Zaha. And another 45 minutes to suggest Saliba is here to stay at the heart of Arsenal’s back four.
Heading into the closing stages, no one had made more clearances, or won the ball more often.
Yes plenty more, plenty tougher tests await.
But this was a decent start, no matter how long it took to arrive.
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