Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Big Willy

Morning all.

It looks like William Saliba had a good game for France in a 0-0 draw with Canada. Whether a 0-0 draw with Canada is a good result for France, that’s another question, but it’s definitely not a 1-0 loss to Iceland, I suppose. The other question is whether or not a performance like that in a game like that will be enough to change the mind of Didier Deschamps.

He seems to have reservations about Saliba. Earlier this year he said of him:

He is having a good season, but he also does things that I don’t like so much. For France, he has limited game time, but when he plays, that hasn’t necessarily gone well. The hierarchy doesn’t favour him at the moment, but he is here.

What is that thing – ‘Tell me you haven’t watched William Saliba without telling me you haven’t watched William Saliba’? Obviously every coach has their preferences, but if you’re going into an international tournament and you’re going to pick anyone over the best central defender in the Premier League, you’re doing it wrong, in my opinion.

There are some who would prefer Saliba not to play for France, but I’d rather he got the game time. He’s out there doing the training, so it’s not as if he’s got his feet up on holidays anyway. Plus, I think it could be beneficial for him. He’s still only 23, and as accomplished as he is at that age, he can get even better, and playing at the top level of a major tournament would help in that regard. So, if he can force his way past Deschamps mental barrier, because that’s all it is, I think he’ll stay in the team, and if he does, people will be asking why it took so long.

There were some interesting quotes last week from Saliba about Mikel Arteta and how he has helped him develop into the player he is today:

“He took me to another level. He is one of the best coaches in the world. Sometimes he thought I was a little soft in training so he asked me to be meaner. In fact, he wants the [opposition] players to be scared when they see me.”

Just to reiterate, to be as good as he is as a central defender at his age is not really normal. There’s a reason why young players, if they make their breakthrough for a team challenging for titles etc, tend to play further forward. You can make a mistake without it being punished as much as it would be if you were at the heart of the defence. For me, of all the things that are so impressive about Saliba, it’s that his game is practically flawless at an age when defenders are usually learning on the job.

Of course he makes an odd error here and there, but his reading of the game, his calmness, his decision making – it’s up there with the very best, with players who spent their early 20s making the mistakes they ultimately learned from to reach that level. He’s there already, and the idea that there’s more to come is very exciting.

Meanwhile, there are reports that Arsenal will accept a fee in the region of £10m for Kieran Tierney this summer. So much of this stuff is speculative, but if that’s what was on offer for a player whose injury record makes any deal a gamble for any prospective club, I suspect you’d have to take it. He had three separate injury absences during his loan spell at Real Sociedad last season, and a quick look at his injury history would give you some pause for thought if you were in the market for a left-back.

He’s a good player, and could certainly do a job for many Premier League teams, but the cycle of injuries + recovery and how that impacts the level you can perform at would have to be part of your thinking. It’ll be very interesting to see where any offers come from. He has a contract until 2026, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his was a situation which ran throughout the window, and ended up with another loan somewhere. We’ll see.

Right, let’s leave it there. We are recording an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re an Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Podcast should be out around midday. Until then.

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