WILLIAM SALIBA has been copying title rival Virgil van Dijk in his quest to become the best defender in the business.
Arsenal’s French international centre-half is already regarded as one of the most formidable stoppers in the Premier League.William Saliba copied title rival Virgil van Dijk in his quest to become the best defender[/caption]
But he insists that he is still nowhere near the finished article as he continues to study the strengths and weaknesses of all the defensive greats.
But although it was Emery who gave the green light to his £27million move from St.Etienne in 2019, it was to be another three years before Saliba finally made his debut for the Gunners.
And now he believes that the long wait was a blessing in disguise as it allowed him to properly learn his trade before being thrown into the shark-infested waters of the Premier League.
He says: “When you are a kid it’s always a dream to play in England because it’s the best league in the world and every game is so intense.
“My first experience at Arsenal was not so good because I had to play a lot of games away on loan but I learned from that time away and came back to the Emirates stronger.
“And now I know that the manager trusts me, it makes it easier for me to play well.
“I feel a lot of confidence from him. He is always teaching and giving us things to develop and if I’m a good player now then it’s because of him and the staff.
“I know I still have a lot of work to do to improve my game, but I have the right environment at Arsenal to develop and I will give everything to one day become the best centre-back in the world.
“I have watched many great defenders over the years. Not so long ago, I used to watch a lot of videos of van Dijk and now I play in the same league as him.
“I am still so impressed by him, but I try to watch and learn from everyone and then one day I can become the model for others.
“We are all competitors. I play for one of the best teams in the world, so of course my dream is to become the best defender in the world.”
Saliba was initially reluctant to return to London after playing so well during his loan spell at Marseille that he won his first French call-up without ever playing a game for the Gunners.
But now he has become immersed in the club’s culture and Arteta’s determination to fully connect with their supporters.
This week he was one of a number of Arsenal players who were visiting the Emirates hub to support some of the club’s work in the local community.
He teamed up with Emile Smith Rowe to participate in an anti-bullying project with local school kids from Tufnell Park and also joined in a kickabout with a Down’s syndrome group.
The club is backing 26 community schemes in an all-year project to help people in Islington, Camden and Hackney.
He said: “It’s good to be with these kids. We enjoy it, we make them happy and it’s good to be engaging with things like this.”
And today he is looking to further boost the mood in North London as Arsenal travel to Villa Park with a two-point lead at the top of the Premier League.
But he is refusing to get carried away after the disappointment of the run-in to last season’s title race.
Saliba was an ever-present when the Gunners moved eight points clear of the pack, but missed the last two months of the season after suffering a back injury and was a helpless spectator as his team-mates were reeled in by Manchester City.
He says: “It was so hard to watch my team play in these difficult moments and not be there to help them.
“We were so close but you cannot control the injuries and now I am back and even stronger than before.
“It’s behind me now and I am focusing on the future. I’ve started this season well, we’re top of the Premier League and first in our Champions League group, but we still have a lot of games to come.
“Maybe we can go one better than last season but it’s too early to say that.
“But we are all competitors and we want to win everything.”