Mikel Arteta didn’t speak to Saliba for a WEEK when he rejoined Arsenal as he reveals strange reason why
But it only took the young Frenchman a couple of days to convince his boss that he was going to become a key Emirates player for many years to come.
Arteta admits that he harboured plenty of doubts about Saliba when he returned to the club last summer after spending three years out on loan at Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille.
And he certainly wasn’t sure that the rookie defender was ready to play a key role in his team despite making his senior international debut for France before he had even played a game for the Gunners.
Ahead of Saturday afternoon’s home game against struggling Bournemouth, Arteta says: “For William’s first week back at the club, I didn’t speak to him at all.
“I just wanted to see what he was like without interfering with his thoughts and get to know the real player.
“There were a lot of questions that needed to be answered and the first was how he was going to reintegrate into our dynamic after being away for so long.
“I needed to know if there was some frustration with me or the environment because he could not understand being out on loan.
“There were questions about the amount we had paid for him and about his own expectations coming back to Arsenal.
“Because doing it in France is not the same as doing it in this league with Arsenal and you don’t have 21-year-old defenders at the top level in England.
“But from the very first training sessions I was struck by his attitude, the way he came in and said ‘I’m going to prove that I’m very good and deserve to be here’.
“Without looking back or being shy, he ticked off all the questions and gave the right reasons to think that he was going to be really good for us.
“After his first two sessions we all looked at him and agreed ‘there’s huge potential there’. And he’s been exceptional since that day.”
Yet Arteta still felt it was a gamble to place so much faith in the young rookie who had attracted so much praise during his time at Marseille last season.
He admits: “I was absolutely certain that I was going to have a lot of external pressure to give William the opportunity.
“There were a lot of people who questioned the decision to send him out on loan last season and I could have got that totally wrong.
“But I felt the time was right to bring him back and after that it was the perfect storm and a beautiful relationship started to build.”
It was during the 3-0 win at Bournemouth in August that Saliba really announced himself to the Arsenal fans and they have been singing his name ever since.
They continued to back him even when he made a few early errors, although Arteta admits: “He’s naturally very composed.
“He doesn’t get too bothered about opinions or nervy in certain situations. That’s a big quality.”
And it’s not just on the pitch that Saliba is impressing his colleagues.
Arteta reveals: “He’s really funny – even when he doesn’t want to be.
“He’s very popular around the place. He has an aura and a presence which goes with the humour and energy which is always around him.
“But he is also very focussed and determined to become a top player.”
Arsenal are likely to be without striker Eddie Nketiah for Saturday’s game after he suffered an ankle injury during the midweek win against Everton.
But Jorginho has recovered from the illness which forced him off at half-time in that game and is available for selection.
Likely line-up (4-3-3): Ramsdale; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko; Odegaard, Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Trossard, Martinelli.
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