William Saliba played his first 90 minutes of the season on Thursday in the Europa League, and he made a good impression on his comeback.

Montpellier’s French forward Gaitan Laborde (L) vies with Saint-Etienne’s French forward William Saliba (R) during the French L1 football match between Saint-Etienne (ASSE) and Montpellier (MHSC) on May 10, 2019, at the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium in Saint-Etienne, central France. (Photo by JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP / Getty Images)

In August, Arsenal and Saint-Etienne made the joint decision that Saliba needed surgery to address pubalgia, with an expected absence of around a month and a half.

Right on cue, the defender returned to play a few minutes against Nimes last weekend, before making the starting lineup against Wolfsburg in midweek. We spoke to Chloe Gallot of Ultimo Diez for a report on his performance.

Saint-Etienne 1-1 Wolfsburg

Saliba made his first start of the season against VfL Wolfsburg in Europa League and his comeback was brilliant.

St-Etienne were playing with a back four, so he was partnered with club captain Loïc Perrin, who is having a very difficult season so far. However, Saliba was the man of the match and was extremely important to the team.

The centre-back’s performance was, as always, extremely composed. He had a real impact at the back as his presence really reassured all of his teammates. They all know that they can rely on him.

Saliba’s capacity to go forward and to find spaces also helped to develop St-Etienne’s play from the back. His interceptions were all clean, as was his positioning. He came back just as he left: absurdly good.

The defender was not scared at all even if he was facing an undefeated team, a strong attacking side with Brekalo, Weghorst and Klaus. The front three, and especially Weghorst, were quiet today and Saliba was partly responsible for that.

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 13: of Arsenal during a training session at London Colney on September 13, 2019 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
ST ALBANS, ENGLAND – SEPTEMBER 13: William Saliba of Arsenal during a training session at London Colney on September 13, 2019, in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

On the equaliser in the 15th minute, the whole team was upside down as St-Etienne had scored right before, and a clear lack of focus caused that quick equaliser.

Perrin and Saliba did not communicate properly, the midfield was not in place and Wolfsburg had too much space which allowed their players to put the ball into St-Etienne box quickly. Arnold crossed the ball from the left side of the pitch, Saliba did not see William coming from behind his back as he was focused on the ball and the Brazilian player equaliser with a good header.

It was the sole negative moment in his performance, which was more down to St-Etienne’s lack of focus this season than an actual individual mistake. St-Etienne have conceded many goals like that this season already, which is enough to prove the point.

At the 60th minute, Debuchy had to come off meaning that Saliba changed position to play as a right back. Even there he remained calm and continued to deliver a very impressive performance. His versatility and capacity to play in these two positions could be extremely important in the future.

After tonight’s performance, all St-Etienne fans will agree that they terribly missed Saliba and it was good to have him back. It’s good timing in such a complicated situation with the derby against Olympique Lyonnais and the likely managerial change coming on as Claude Puel will likely take over the team by Sunday.

Many thanks to Chloe Gallot of Ultimo Diez for the update.