William Saliba made his first competitive appearance for Arsenal on Friday, playing for the u23s against Brighton in the Premier League 2.
Saliba is easing into life with Arsenal at the moment, and they gave him a game with the u23s on Friday to help him settle. The centre-back started against Brighton alongside Daniel Ballard, who was captaining the side on the night.
Immediately you could see Saliba’s quality in possession, but also his lack of match sharpness. After all, the 19-year-old last stepped onto the pitch for a competitive match in March.
Understandably, some of his touches were a little loose, but his passing was always positive and forward-thinking. He consistently found centre-forward Folarin Balogun’s feet with long passes throughout the match, and regularly carried the ball forwards.
This was a game of risk and reward, though. In the first half, one of Saliba’s low forward passes fell to a Brighton man, who quickly started a counter-attack resulting in goalkeeper James Hillson conceding a penalty. A clear example of what can go wrong.
Then again, a second-half pass from Saliba into Balogun allowed the striker to find James Olayinka for an Arsenal goal. So that’s what can happen when those risks come off.
In the individual duels, Saliba was unsurprisingly dominant. These were youth opponents after all, albeit players who are mostly the same age he is. He won a lot of headers and a couple of tackles with ease.
There wasn’t anything he could do about the second goal, with an early cross to Ballard’s side finding a Brighton man.
The performance showed what a talent Saliba is, but also why he needed this game to help him get up to speed. If he starts in the League Cup on Wednesday, he’ll hope he’s got the rustiness out of his system.