'We didn't speak for a week' - Mikel Arteta reveals how 'exceptional' William Saliba won him over at Arsenal

William Saliba Arsenal 2022-23
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Mikel Arteta has revealed that he didn’t speak to William Saliba for a week following the centre-back’s return to Arsenal last summer.
  • Saliba has made 29 appearances this season
  • He has helped Arsenal keep 11 league clean sheets
  • Arsenal in negotiations over extending his contract

WHAT HAPPENED? Saliba had spent the past two seasons out on loan in France prior to the start of the current campaign and there were major doubts as to whether he would ever succeed in north London.

After an excellent campaign with Marseille in 2020/21, however, he came back to Arsenal last summer amid huge expectation that he was finally going to be given his chance - three years after initially signing for the club from Saint Etienne for £27 million ($32.4m).

WHAT THEY SAID: But Arteta has now admitted that he still had his doubts over the 21-year-old and they didn't disappear until he saw him in training.

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“The first two sessions we looked at him, we went ‘there’s huge potential here’,” said the Arsenal boss. “The way he settled, the way he started to get his role around his team-mates and the way he played in pre-season. He took out every question mark that we could have with him and gave us all the reasons to play him. He’s been exceptional since that day.

“For the first week I didn’t speak to him. I just wanted to see – naturally, without me really interfering in his thoughts – how he was. Because then you can understand the real him and after that I spoke to him.”

THE BIGGER PICTURE: Saliba has gone on to start every single league game for Arsenal this season forming a formidable partnership at the heart of the defence with Gabriel Magalhaes. So what was it about those first couple of training sessions that convinced Arteta that Saliba was ready to make an impact?

“His attitude,” the Arsenal manager explained. “The way he came in and said ‘I’m going to prove that I’m very good and I deserve to be here.’



Mikel Arteta Arsenal 2022-23

Mikel Arteta William Saliba Arsenal 2022-23

AND WHAT'S MORE: Opening up about the doubts he had over Saliba at the start of last summer, Arteta added: “The first question was how the player was going to reintegrate into our dynamic after being out for so long. Is there some frustration there, something personal between, for example, me and the player because he could not understand? There were a lot of question marks and he went with all of them, ticking them off and giving us every reason to be confident that he was a great player for us.

“I was 100 percent sure that I was going to have a lot of pressure externally to give him the opportunity – that was for sure. Obviously I was really willing to find out what we found out in pre-season. Then it was the perfect storm and a beautiful relationship started to build there. And he’s done what he’s done this season.”

WHAT NEXT FOR SALIBA? The Arsenal centre-back will be looking to keep a third successive clean sheet when the Gunners host Bournemouth on Saturday in the Premier League.