BALTIMORE — During Arsenal’s 2-0 preseason victory over Everton in Baltimore on Saturday, one of the players who generated the most cheers was French defender Willaim Saliba. While Saliba has been an Arsenal player since 2019 after moving from Saint-Etienne to North London, he hasn’t appeared above the U-21 level for the club, but that could change this season. Saliba starred on loan with Olympique Marseille last season leading them to a second-place finish in Ligue 1.
The French side wanted to work out a deal for adding Saliba on a permanent transfer but he is set to stay this season, according to CBS Sports soccer insider Fabrizio Romano. Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta echoed that after the match.
“William Saliba is in the plans,” Arteta said. “I’m excited to see him. We can’t guarantee first-team football to anybody in this team, but 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.”
Fellow center back Ben White missed the friendly due to a quad issue, and that allowed Saliba to start next to first-choice defender Gabriel. White is responding well to treatment and will hopefully be back in training soon, but with it being Saliba’s first preseason appearance for Arsenal, it was almost a second debut for him helping contain the Everton attack.
The pro-Arsenal crowd was intrigued by his every move as Saliba has been a bit of a mystery during his time with the club.
“This is probably the first time that they are experiencing this in the states, but that means that they start to get some recognition around the world that has created a voice for what they are doing”, Arteta said about the chants for Saliba.
Saliba’s growth hasn’t gone unnoticed in France with him getting his first international cap against the Ivory Coast in March before also starting two Nations League matches during the June international window. Returning to Arsenal a more confident player than he left, Saliba is the type of modern defender that can help in what Arteta wants to do.
Saliba also kept a close eye on Arsenal’s progress from afar which he spoke about in an interview with the club website saying, “When I was on loan I watched every single [Arsenal] game because when I was there some players weren’t. I watched the games to see how they played, so when I was back it would be easier to play with those I hadn’t met before.”
As the team gets better, Arsenal want to impose their will onto teams by pushing a high line and dissecting the field with quick passing movements. No defender in Ligue 1 had the ball at their feet more than Saliba last season, and he registered the seventh-best pass completion among all defenders in the league.
Not forgetting the defensive side of the game, Saliba won 52 percent of his tackles and 62 percent of his overall duels with Marseille. While the team would’ve wanted to win the Europa Conference League, Marseille’s run to the semifinals behind Saliba was still impressive and an important experience for the young defender.
“I think he played a really good game. He looked really composed straight away from day one. He looks completely focused. He’s evolved the way we wanted, and today I think he had a good performance,” Arteta said about Saliba’s performance.
Saliba was purchased by Arsenal as a young prospect who could be molded into a first-team player, and while that was done on loan, his performances in all competitions have shown that he’s ready for the step up that Arsenal can provide with Europa Leauge this season. He’s certainly an upgrade over some of the center backs that Arteta had to use last season, and with Arsenal looking to win Europa Leauge, Saliba’s performances will be critical if he stays with the club, offering them a formidable option that looks ready for a big role.