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Mikel Arteta backs William Saliba to handle increased exposure after debut

Arsenal’s William Saliba impressed on his debut last week. (Adam Davy/PA)
Arsenal’s William Saliba impressed on his debut last week. (Adam Davy/PA)

Mikel Arteta has backed William Saliba to deal with all of the exposure that comes his way following his fine Arsenal debut, insisting the France defender will keep his feet on the ground.

Saliba, 21, made his long-awaited Gunners bow in their 2-0 victory at Crystal Palace last Friday night.

Having initially moved to the Emirates Stadium from St Etienne in 2019, he rejoined his former club on loan six months later before season-long stays at Nice and Marseille.

It was during his stint at Marseille last season where he caught the eye, making his senior France debut as well as being named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and earning a place in the division’s overall Team of the Year.

His impressive competitive debut for Arsenal saw Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville liken Saliba to a “young Rio Ferdinand” while others compared his performance against Palace to Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk.

Such praise may have come early on in Saliba’s career, but Arteta feels the central defender will be unaffected by any heightened levels of expectation.

“I think he has his feet on the ground, that is not going to be an issue,” Arteta said.

Saliba was named in the Ligue 1 team of the year during his stay at Marseille.
Saliba was named in the Ligue 1 team of the year during his stay at Marseille. (ANP/Alamy)

“Obviously we have talked about the expectation that he already created before joining the club, when he was on loan.

“He is very aware that everything that was happening around him and we have tried to manage that internally in a really quiet way and I think it is better to stay like this for him because he is 21 years of age and he has played one Premier League match.”

Arteta revealed that not only had he been struck by Saliba’s approach since he returned to north London during the summer but that his Arsenal team-mates were also impressed.

“The first impression was really positive,” added the Arsenal boss.

“His body language, his presence and the confidence he was acting with was very mature.

“The players really like him because he has come really determined, a focused and humble boy who wants to take the club forward.

“He is so willing to be talked through anything you want to talk about, be coached and his aim is to get better and get the team better and that is about it.”

Saliba is expected to keep his place in the side that hosts Leicester on Saturday afternoon but Arteta was once again taken back to last season as he answered more questions about Arsenal’s ‘All or Nothing’ Amazon documentary.

In the latest episodes released on Thursday, Arteta is shown making the decision to strip Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the captaincy and ultimately move him on from the club.

Mikel Arteta arrives for the All or Nothing Arsenal Premiere at Islington Assembly Hall.
Mikel Arteta arrives for the All or Nothing Arsenal Premiere at Islington Assembly Hall. (Ian West/PA)

The Gabon forward left for Barcelona on deadline day earlier this year but has been linked with a swift return to the Premier League with Chelsea.

It was revealed during one episode that Arteta had a file of what were deemed “misdemeanours” from Aubameyang.

Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel managed Aubameyang at Borussia Dortmund and said he had never witnessed any poor behaviour from a striker he says he still has a “huge bond” with.

Asked if the Blues had requested a copy of his file, Arteta replied: “Auba is an exceptional player.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Arsenal earlier this year.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang left Arsenal earlier this year. (Martin Rickett/PA)

“He did so much for us. He was our captain and I think we have to be grateful, very grateful as well, for what he did for this club.”

Arteta also believes Aubameyang would be given a good response if he were to one day return to the Emirates to represent Chelsea.

“I hope he does because I think he deserves that,” he said.

“There are moments in life, there are moments in your career, and sometimes the trajectory or the objective of each individual is different to the club’s – and you have to respect that.”