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Mikel Arteta proven right on William Saliba decision after Gillingham display

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Arsenal Under-21’s beat Gillingham on penalties in the Papa John’s Trophy on Tuesday night.

The Gunners took the lead through Catalin Carjin in the first half before Arsenal loanee Trae Coyle scored against his parent team ten minutes into the second half.

Calum Chambers, Emile Smith Rowe and Folarin Balogun were among the names to feature in the game, along with William Saliba, the French defender who was signed for £28million in July 2019.

football.london takes a look at Saliba’s highlights in the game and whether he’s ready to feature in a competitive first team match.

Arteta’s main concern is that he doesn’t want to risk playing Saliba in a match where he could be exposed.

“I’m fed up with the situation because, as you could see, we tried to find a way in the last few days to give him some football,” Arteta recently told reporters.

“I explained that he needed that transition year when we decided to buy him and send him on loan to Saint-Etienne. For many reasons, that didn’t happen – he didn’t have that transition year and he needs to go through that.”

The early rounds of the Carabao Cup would have been the perfect moment for Saliba to feature but he wasn’t deemed ‘ready’ by Arteta and the coaching staff.

Indeed, Saliba has endured a difficult time off the pitch due to personal reasons and he has reiterated his desire to re-join St Etienne on loan in January.

To his credit the 19-year-old has been taking part in online language classes as he seeks to improve his English skills. He was recently interviewed by Ian Wright and revealed that the language barrier is not an issue due to the multitude of French speakers at the club.

“It is a big dream [to play for Arsenal],” Saliba said.

“It was a big dream becoming a reality for me.

“[Mikel Arteta] is very positive. Sometimes he would send me a message when I was at Saint-Etienne. So it’s good.”

“Yes, it’s very good because I don’t speak good English at the moment. When I don’t understand something, Auba, Laca and the coach help me.”

Saliba, who partnered the returning Calum Chambers in defence, showed glimpses of his quality but overall his performance against Gillingham provided a reminder of why he’s not ready for the intensity of Premier League matches right now.

His passing range is clearly one of his biggest strengths. He finished the match with a 92% pass accuracy rate and his pre-assist down the left flank to Joel Lopez proved crucial for Arsenal scoring their opener through Catalin Cirjan.

Gillingham’s players gave Saliba plenty of time and space on the ball throughout much of the game, but it’s evident when he has freedom in possession he’s capable of launching attacking transitions from defence.

Saliba made 10 interceptions and 13 recoveries (1 in the opposition half) against the League One team but was extremely lucky to escape with only a yellow card after he appeared to foul Gills forward Dominic Samuel on 74 minutes.

As the last man, Saliba would have received a red card in a Premier League match and it’s perhaps one of the reasons why the Frenchman has yet to feature in a first team game for Arteta’s side.

After a difficult year off the pitch, Saliba shouldn’t be rushed into playing for the first team simply because of his price tag.

Arsenal have a tremendously talented player on their hands but it’s vital that Arteta continues to manage the situation in the correct way as to make sure Saliba’s development continues on the right track, after an initial bumpy start.

 

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