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William Saliba invites comparison with Rio Ferdinand on dream Arsenal debut

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Mikel Arteta hailed the “superb” performance of William Saliba after the defender finally made his Arsenal debut three years after signing for the club.

The 21-year-old French international, who was bought from Saint Etienne in 2019 for £27 million and has been on loan since then, started in the impressive away win over Crystal Palace as the Premier League returned.

Saliba was deservedly named man-of-the-match after committing no fouls, winning 67 per cent of his duels, making six clearances, seven recoveries and with a pass completion rate of 94 per cent which had pundits such as former Manchester United defender Gary Neville gushing that he reminded him of Rio Ferdinand.

“You don’t really see that at 21 in the Premier League against this opponent and physical players. With that composure, calmness and presence,” Arteta said of the centre-half’s assured performance. “Saliba was superb tonight.”

Asked what he now expected of Saliba, who it was feared would never play for Arsenal, Arteta added: “Let him be and let him play. The way we have tried to develop that player…to sign him at 19 and bring him back three years later is something unusual and now we are exposing the player in a very difficult environment where he can develop and enjoy it.”

Arteta said that Arsenal’s first goal had come as the result of a set-piece routine practised on the eve of the match. “It was one of the set-piece coaches that created [it],” he said.  

Despite having already spent £115 million Arsenal are still looking to strengthen their squad this month. “We are going to try,” Arteta said. “There are a few things we have planned and if we could do them it would be great. But we have to focus on the players we have to get the best out of them.”

Palace manager Patrick Vieira rued the failure of his side to take their chances having “dominated” the game and also added that he was looking to strengthen before the window closes. “We are a bit short of numbers and a bit short of experience,” he said. “We are always looking to improve the team and if we find the right players with the right budget we will do it.”

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