DANIEL MATTHEWS: It’s the start but William Saliba’s display at Crystal Palace shows patience has paid off for the French defender… his second coming to Arsenal has shown both composure and finesse
- William Saliba made his first start for the Gunners in the win over Crystal Palace
- The French centre-back was named man of the match in Arsenal’s 2-0 win
- The 21-year-old joined Saint-Etienne in 2019 but is struggling to perform
- A Gabriel Martinelli goal and an own goal from Palace secured the three points
Three starts, two new faces, a man Arsenal fans have longed to see above all else.
They had been waiting for a while, in all honesty. William Saliba first arrived in north London in 2019. Arsenal paid £27million for the then-teenage defender. Friday evening, after three years and three periods of loan in France, a competitive reverence finally.
You can forgive those who wondered if this day would ever come.
You can understand why, for some, a first appearance by Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko was always going to play second fiddle. During his absence, an almost sectarian zeal has developed around the 21-year-old Frenchman.
William Saliba signed for the Gunners in 2019, before spending three loan spells in France
The France international was named man of the match for his efforts in the heart of defense
Arguably, Saliba’s biggest task last night wasn’t to fend off Crystal Palace, but to 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. The early days, sure, but it was a night that suggests Arsenal’s investment will finally pay off.
Early signs of this summer had already convinced Mikel Arteta that it was worth moving Ben White to put the Frenchman alongside Gabriel Magalhaes. There was little here to suggest this winning formula needs tweaking – even when Takehiro Tomiyasu is back to full fitness.
There were also wobbles after the break, when Saliba misjudged a cross and then failed to cut off a through pass to Eberechi Eze. Fortunately, Aaron Ramsdale kept Arsenal ahead.
Arsenal won 2-0 at Selhurst Park thanks to a Gabriel Martinelli goal and a Palace OG
But then came another couple of crisp, sharp tackles on Zaha. And another 45 minutes to suggest that Saliba is here to stay at the heart of Arsenal’s four defenders.
Heading into the closing stages, no one had made more clearances or won the ball more often.
Yes, many more, many more difficult tests are waiting for you.
But it was a decent start, no matter how long it took to get there.