William Saliba’s chances of starting in France’s opening fixtures at the World Cup have seemingly received a boost with the continued absence of Raphael Varane.

France's defender William Saliba (C) gets up to head the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Denmark and France in Copenhagen on September 25, 2022. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)
France’s defender William Saliba (C) gets up to head the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Denmark and France in Copenhagen on September 25, 2022. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Arsenal centre-back William Saliba is one of 10 current Gunners at the World Cup this month, along with a host of ex-Arsenal stars.

Yet quite a few of Arsenal’s World Cup stars aren’t necessarily guaranteed a starting place at the tournament.

You look at Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli of Brazil, or Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, and Bukayo Saka of England, and it’s very much unclear whether or not they’ll be starting matches.

There are some you can count on to start, such as Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland), Thomas Partey (Ghana), and Matt Turner (USA). But perhaps the player with the most uncertainty is William Saliba.

Saliba has been fantastic for Arsenal in the first half of the season, following a strong campaign in Ligue 1 last year. It’s no exaggeration to say he’s a key factor in Mikel Arteta shooting up from fifth to first in the Premier League over the last few months.

Yet it’s not entirely clear how Didier Deschamps views Saliba’s current status.

Deschamps clearly rates Saliba to an extent, or he wouldn’t have handed him his debut back in March, playing him in seven of France’s last eight matches.

On the other hand, Saliba only played so much in September following an injury to Jules Kounde during the opening match of the break against Austria. The Arsenal man was subsequently substituted at half-time against Denmark.

So perhaps if everyone were fully fit and available, Deschamps might simply avoid taking a risk on Saliba, who is so new to international football without any previous tournament experience.

But everyone is not fully fit and available.

France's defender Raphael Varane (L) leaves the field to be replaced by France's defender William Saliba (C) during the friendly football match between France and Ivory Coast at the Velodrome Stadium in Marseille, southern France, on March 25, 2022. (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images)
France defender Raphael Varane (L) leaves the field to be replaced by William Saliba (C) during the friendly football match between France and Ivory Coast at the Velodrome Stadium in Marseille, southern France, on March 25, 2022. (Photo by NICOLAS TUCAT/AFP via Getty Images)

As mentioned, Jules Kounde picked up an injury back in September, and after a brief return to action in mid-to-late October, he was ruled out again until now.

The Barcelona centre-back hasn’t played a competitive match in three weeks.

Then there’s Raphael Varane, with reporters highlighting that he and Karim Benzema were training away from the main group this week. Benzema’s injury problem has since seen him withdraw from the tournament.

As with Kounde, Varane hasn’t played a match since October due to injury, missing the final six fixtures of Manchester United’s run-up to the World Cup break.

So of Deschamps’ starting back-three against Austria in September, only Monaco’s Benoit Badiashile has started a match this month.

Badiashile is two days younger than Saliba with fewer caps, so he doesn’t have the experience argument on his side.

There are other options available – Axel Disasi of Monaco, Ibrahima Konate of Liverpool, Dayot Upamecano of Bayern Munich. None of them have more than Saliba’s seven caps for France, and Upamecano is the only one that can match that total.

Suddenly, France don’t seem to have a single risk-free centre-back in their squad. You’re either gambling on fitness or inexperience.

fbl fra training friendly
(from L) France’s defender Presnel Kimpembe, France’s defender Jonathan Clauss and France’s defender William Saliba attend a training session in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines near Paris on March 27, 2022, ahead of the friendly football match against South Africa. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Saliba may well still find himself on the bench when France face Australia on Tuesday. But from the start of the year, when he hadn’t even made his debut, you could hardly construct a scenario that left him better placed to break in than this one.

Previous article“Rambo gene”: Arsenal loanee draws comparison to first-team star
Next article“Top player”, “Baller”: Fans rave about Arsenal loan midfielder
Arsenal fan since a young age, now a season ticket holder who enjoys writing, tweeting and making videos about the Gunners.