After much anticipation, the new Premier League campaign was finally underway on Friday as Crystal Palace hosted Arsenal at Selhurst Park.
For Mikel Arteta and the Gunners, the stakes were a lot higher for this season’s opener as it was imperative that the team started strong, unlike last season’s disappointing beginning. The north London club began last season’s campaign in disastrous fashion by losing the first three games, without scoring a single goal.
But much has changed since then as Arsenal kicked off at Selhurst Park with three of their new arrivals in the starting line-up, in Gabriel Jesus, Oleksander Zinchenko and William Saliba. While the former Man City men were fresh faces for Arsenal fans, Saliba is no stranger to supporters of the club.
Having signed for the English side in 2019, the centre-back was loaned out for the subsequent seasons to Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille as it was too early for him to break into the first team at Arsenal.
But the French international was finally given his Arsenal debut on Friday and surely enough, he rewarded the club’s faith in him by dishing out an impressive performance in defence.
While the 2-0 score-line suggests a comfortable win in the end for the Gunners, it took some serious rear-guard action from the defence and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale to ensure that the three points came home to North London.
Throughout the game, Saliba cast a calm figure in his position as he toiled consistently to hold the defensive line and sweep up after his teammates. As per whoscored.com, the Frenchman made 7 clearances (the most), had a 93.8% passing accuracy (the most) and put in a tackle and a block each to cap off his impressive Premier League debut for which he was awarded the MOTM trophy.
Following his gargantuan performance, Saliba quickly became the talk of the town within the footballing community with even rival fans applauding his efforts. But it seems that the 21-year-old has also impressed rival footballers as Liverpool’s stalwart centre-back Virgil Van Dijk appeared to have begun following Saliba on Instagram after the Palace game.
In many respects, Saliba seems to remind football fans of a younger version of the Dutch defender. Both players are of the same height (6ft 4 in) and are physical centre-backs who know how to remain as imposing figures in front of an attacker. The two players are also one of the calmest figures in their respective teams who play their football without the nerves getting to them.
As a few supporters pointed out during his post-match interview, Saliba also possesses a heavy and deep voice very much similar to Van Dijk’s.
Furthermore, as VVD has often been applauded for having an ‘aura’ around him which at times mentally fazes opposition players, it appears Arsenal fans have also begun making a similar case for their French defender as well.
Of course, it must be said that Saliba surely has a long way to go to be compared with the Liverpool man who is currently playing out his prime years.
However, against Palace the Frenchman surely showed the potential to be an excellent defender just as VVD did during his time at Southampton.
But at the end of the day, there is certainly no stopping Arsenal fans from celebrating and hyping up Saliba who they believe to be just as good as Van Dijk.