Mikel Arteta is 'excited' to watch forgotten man William Saliba play

Mikel Arteta is ‘excited’ to watch forgotten Arsenal man William Saliba play with the the 21-year-old to feature in tonight’s friendly against Everton after returning from Marseille loan a full French international

  • William Saliba is set to feature for Arsenal tonight in their friendly versus Everton
  • The 21-year-old has made just one appearance for Arsenal in three years
  • He spent last season on loan at Marseille and is now a full French international
  • Mikel Arteta is looking forward to seeing him play and will give him a chance

It took William Saliba 13 months to play his first match for Arsenal. 

After almost two more years, his wait for appearance No 2 is over. The French centre back, who first signed for Arsenal for £27million in 2019, will feature in the opening match of their US tour against Everton in Baltimore on Saturday night.

‘We’re all excited to watch him play,’ manager Mikel Arteta said.

William Saliba signed for Arsenal three years ago but has made just one appearance to date

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta claimed that he is excited to see Saliba in a Gunners shirt

Could this, something of a second debut, finally pave the way for a senior competitive bow?

Saliba first arrived in north London as a raw 18-year-old of considerable promise.

He returned to the first-team fold this week a senior France international, following loan spells back home – at St Etienne, Nice and Marseille – that culminated with last season’s Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award.

‘He’s a proper talent and he’s shown in the last year what can do,’ Arteta said.

‘But in football it’s about what you do the next day – what everybody did three months ago or a month ago, it doesn’t really matter. It’s about what you do tomorrow and he’s going to have the chance to play.’

While on loan, Saliba watched every Arsenal match. ‘To see how they played, so when I was back it would be easier to play with those I hadn’t met before,’ he revealed.

The first test of that homework will come against Everton at the M&T Bank Stadium.

Saliba won the Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year award whilst on loan at Marseille last season

But Arteta, who handed Saliba his debut in August 2020, can already see how the 21-year-old has developed – both physically and mentally.

‘All that time he’s been abroad has built that confidence in him which is really important,’ Arteta said. ‘I think he’s improved in many areas, first of all because he has an incredible amount of minutes last year. 

‘He played to a really good level. He was educated with a different coach in a different league and now it’s about putting all those things (into) the way we want to play and in our league which is a very different context. He needs to show that now.’

It won’t be easy. As Arteta pointed out: ‘How many players at his age play as a central defender at a big club in the Premier League?’

At Arsenal, Saliba will have to disrupt the promising partnership of Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes. Arteta is offering no promises.

‘We cannot guarantee first-team football to anybody,’ he said.

‘What we guarantee is that the ones we really see and think are going to take us to the next level, they’re going to be playing a lot of minutes.’

Saliba reached the semi-final of the Conference League with Marseille in 2021-22

He has played for Arsenal’s U21 team in the EFL Trophy after signing as an 18-year-old

Arteta added: ‘He’s settled really well, obviously the way our relationship started – with the plan from the beginning to buy him and then send him on loan – is not a typical thing to do. But we made every step trying to prepare him the best possible way, so when he now faces the league and our team he can perform at the highest level.’

It could prove tricky for Saliba to shine during this US tour.

Arteta has brought a bloated, 33-man group that features both new signings – such as Gabriel Jesus and Fabio Vieira – and those surely destined for the exit door. ‘We know the squad at the moment is too big and it will be really difficult to manage a squad of that size,’ the manager admitted. Oleksandr Zinchenko is expected to join, too.

On Friday, Arsenal trained at the US Naval Academy outside Baltimore. It was a hive of activity – Arsenal’s players streamed out of the changing rooms as a young girls’ team filed in. The surrounding fields and water featured groups playing baseball, rowing, sailing, even frisbee.

The striking – if slightly odd – setting felt rather fitting as Arteta discussed Saliba. This, after all, is where thousands of young recruits are trained up for service.

Arteta has said every player on Arsenal’s pre-season tour will be given the chance to impress

Saliba’s long apprenticeship has frustrated some supporters. Particularly when, following his debut, the defender spent months in the wilderness, playing for the club’s Under-23s, behind even dead wood in the pecking order. Does Arteta have any regrets about how it was handled?

‘I don’t know but the communication and the honesty we had between each other has always been very clear – I never promised minutes, I was very clear from the beginning what to expect,’ he said. The manager insisted he feels no added pressure to make this work.

But he did suggest the defender’s winding road towards the first-team could be a blueprint for younger signings moving forward.

‘If it ends up in the right way, yes,’ Arteta said.

‘As you can imagine it is for a long time a lot of speculation building and you have to get that balance right. But it is great if you can recruit at 17 and get them out for two years, expose them at 19, 20, they are ready to play for Arsenal. It is incredible because they are experiencing making errors, mistakes, learning somewhere else.’

New teenage forward Marquinhos seems an obvious candidate.

‘First of all we have to expose him here and see how he reacts to the environment,’ the manager said. ‘He is very physical and is coping really well with the demands of our training session but another thing after is to compete. August 5 at Palace – that’s a different story.’

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