Arsenal legend Martin Keown has hit back at William Gallas’ claims that William Saliba could struggle because he is not being played alongside ‘top class’ defenders. The French central defender is hoping to make his mark in his first-ever north London derby this Saturday.
Since returning from his successful loan spell at Marseille, Saliba has had an instant impact at the Emirates Stadium. The 21-year-old has been rock solid in the heart of the Arsenal defence and enabled other players to flourish with his confident, assured nature.
The France international has also been influential in the final third, scoring two and assisting one, and has been one of the standout players in the Premier League so far this season. Though Gallas voiced his concerns to Genting Casino, via the Metro, about the former Saint-Etienne star ahead of the crunch match against Tottenham.
He said: “He’s still young and at this age, you need to learn and you need to have the right players next to you. It’s very important when you play centre-back, you need to have experienced players you can learn from. At the moment Saliba doesn’t have anyone.
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“When I talk about experienced players, I’m talking about top-class defenders. That’s why I’m a little bit worried for him.” Saliba has formed a strong partnership with Gabriel in defence, with Mikel Arteta opting to play Ben White in right-back to make space for the former loanee – with the trio forming a back-three when Kieran Tierney or Oleksandr Zinchenko pushes on.
And thus, Keown feels the doubts about Saliba are somewhat questionable, saying: “Of course, you want senior players around, but Saliba seems very measured and a very calm individual. Arsenal have got themselves an outstanding player here. He’s very good in a one-vs-one, he’s quick, he’s powerful and he’s going to need to be [against Spurs].
“If you think about Son Heung-min, you could say he got Rob Holding sent off last season. I think it’s a nice little partnership [between Saliba and Gabriel] and why can’t Saliba be the leader? This is a partnership that will be there for a number of years if they get it right. It’s difficult for Ben White, who’s been shoved out to right-back.
“But he’s responded well and is also playing well. At times it can work as a back three. But I think Saliba, he will have to have an outstanding game if Arsenal are to win this game on Saturday.” Arteta can have no complaints about how his side are performing this season having won six of their opening seven league matches, and if Saliba continues to flourish then it will further justify the manager’s decision to send him out on loan to the Ligue 1 last season when many doubted the call.