DANIEL MATTHEWS: It’s still early days, but William Saliba’s appearance at Crystal Palace shows that patience has rewarded the French defender… his second arrival at Arsenal showed both composure and finesse
- William Saliba made his first start for the Gunners in victory over Crystal Palace
- The French centre-back was named man-of-the-match in Arsenal’s 2-0 win
- The 21-year-old came over from Saint-Etienne in 2019, but is struggling to perform
- A goal from Gabriel Martinelli and an own goal from Palace ensured the three points
Three debuts, two new faces, one man that the Arsenal fans especially longed for.
Frankly, they had been waiting for a while. William Saliba first arrived in North London in 2019. Arsenal paid £27 million for the then teenage defender. Last night, after three years and three rental periods in France, finally a competitive arc.
You can forgive those who wondered if this day would ever come.
You can understand why, for some, a first sighting of Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko would always play second fiddle. While he was gone, an almost cultic fervor developed around the 21-year-old Frenchman.
William Saliba signed for the Gunners in 2019, before being loaned out three times in France
The France international was named man of the match for his commitment to the heart of the defence
Probably Saliba’s biggest job last night was not to divest Crystal Palace, but somehow satisfy all the anticipation.
Did he succeed? Could he succeed?
Well, he left Selhurst Park with a clean sheet, a win 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 finally pay off.
Early signs this summer had already convinced Mikel Arteta that it was worth moving Ben White back to the right to pit the Frenchman alongside Gabriel Magalhaes. There was little here to suggest that this winning formula should be adjusted – even if Takehiro Tomiyasu is back to full fitness.
There were also faltering after the break, when Saliba misjudged a cross and then failed to cut a through ball to Eberechi Eze. Luckily Aaron Ramsdale kept Arsenal up front.
Arsenal won 2-0 at Selhurst Park thanks to a goal from Gabriel Martinelli and a Palace OG
But then some clean, chopping tackles came on Zaha. And another 45 minutes to suggest that Saliba will stay here at the heart of Arsenal’s back four.
On the way to the final phase, no one had done more distances or won the ball more often.
Yes, much more, much tougher tests await.
But this was a good start, however long it took to arrive.