William Saliba attracted a great deal of praise for his performance in Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Friday night.
The Gunners impressed in attack and kept a clean sheet at the back as they emerged victorious in the opening game of the 2022/23 Premier League season.
There was positivity directed to several of the Gunners’ XI, but none more so than 21-year-old centre-back Saliba.
Speaking on talkSPORT after full-time, Arsenal legend Martin Keown said: “Saliba – the fella’s been at Arsenal now for three years and it’s the first time we’ve seen him.
“I think he should take a bow really because he deserved an opportunity far sooner than he got tonight.
“If it was me given the choice, I’d go with Saliba for Man of the Match.
Keown’s fellow pundit Dean Ashton added: “Saliba – for someone so young, I was really, really impressed.
“The couple of times that he stepped in and helped his full-back out – I know it’s only a small thing, but the timing, the way he dealt with the situation, I think showed some real class.
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“And he’s almost, not come out of nowhere, but he’s not somebody that Arsenal maybe thought was gonna start and look really, really good.”
Keown concluded: “I mean they paid £50million for Ben White and Ben White’s having to play right-back because obviously the manager’s seen something in this player in pre-season, and why not?
“I think actually it’s paid off and now we do have real competition in that central defensive position.”
It was then agreed that Saliba would be named Man of the Match.
Upon hearing about these remarks from Keown in particular, Saliba told talkSPORT in his post-match interview: “Thank you to the legend!
“Sometimes we don’t have thinking time, we have to react, so I enjoy tackles and I made a big one…
“We knew it would be a tough game but we stayed strong and focussed until the end.
“We defend together and we conceded some occasions. We still finished with the [clean] sheet.”
The praise for Saliba was universal in the broadcast world.
On Sky’s TV coverage, Gary Neville made a bold comparison.
“I was massively impressed by him,” Neville declared, “He actually reminded me of a young Rio Ferdinand.”
Time will tell if the youngster lives up to this billing, though he’s certainly made a magnificent start.
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