William Saliba finally made his competitive debut for Arsenal against Crystal Palace on Friday night.
Even writing out that sentence seems mind-boggling when you consider that the young Frenchman was signed to great fanfare no less than three years ago, only to swiftly be gobbled up by the club’s loan system.
However, having spent the past three seasons at Saint-Étienne, Nice and Marseille respectively, the time has finally come for Mikel Arteta to invest his faith in one of Europe’s most exciting young centre-backs.
Saliba impresses vs Crystal Palace
And Saliba showed on more than one occasion at Selhurst Park why he was named the Ligue 1 YoungPplayer of the Year last season, building on his pre-season promise with a sensational performance.
The 21-year-old was drawing wide-spread praise from Gooners across social media as he lined up in a back four comprised of himself, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Ben White and Gabriel Magalhães.
Arsenal looked superb in the opening exchanges against the Eagles with Gabriel Martinelli missing a glorious early chance, before making up for his misfire by breaking the deadlock with a close-range header.
From there on out, there were a few more defensive frailties present in the Arsenal set-up with Aaron Ramsdale called upon to make a couple of key saves, but Saliba remained resolute throughout.
Arsenal Perfect Start! Crystal Palace 0-2 Arsenal Highlights (Football Terrace)
Saliba shows Zaha who’s boss
And there was even time for him to produce a marquee moment where Arsenal fans could really rub their hands together at the prospect of seeing him more often.
It came in the form of a fabulous slide-tackle on Wilfried Zaha, which is a daunting prospect at the best of times given the Palace star’s electric footwork, but even more so when it comes in the penalty area.
However, Saliba managed to execute a feat that’s increasingly rare in football these days: going to ground with a crunching tackle in the box that doesn’t result in a penalty being awarded.
The moral of the story is that they are damn, damn hard to get right, so it really was a masterclass in defending and one that you can check out for yourself down below:
Magnifique l'intervention de Saliba sue Zaha pic.twitter.com/2398HiCuVU— Małik (@MLK_2112) August 5, 2022
This tackle Saliba to zaha. pic.twitter.com/uN2gjnzc8D— Kanishk Ramkumar (@Artetabeliever) August 5, 2022
SALIBA IS GOATED, had zaha crying in the floor pic.twitter.com/N9zs5LA9Fl— Ahmed 🪔 (@tootsiesushi) August 5, 2022
It’s fair to say that Zaha learnt pretty quickly what it’s like to play against Saliba.
Sensational from Saliba
You’ve got to appreciate the guts on Saliba to dive in for a tackle that could have easily seen him concede a penalty on his big showcase for Arsenal, only to nail one of the league’s best dribblers like it was nothing.
And truth be told, it was merely illustrative of Saliba’s all-round performance as he was quickly touted as Arsenal’s Man of the Match by legions of fans and even rounded off his night’s work with a clean sheet.
The Gunners ultimately steadied the ship after some of their first-half wobbles and wrapped up the three points in the dying minute when Marc Guehi stuck Bukayo Saka’s cross past his own goalkeeper.
According to Julien Laurens, Saliba finished the game with zero fouls committed, six clearances, seven recoveries, 94% passing accuracy and 67% duels won to go with the victory and clean sheet.
Oh, and Zaha won’t forget his run-in with the Arsenal starlet, that’s for sure…