William Saliba says starting at the World Cup for France is a dream for him as he continues his fine form for Premier League leaders Arsenal.
Three years after his £25m move from St Etienne, the centre-back has finally broken into the Gunners’ first team, starting all seven of Arsenal’s Premier League matches so far this season and scoring twice – most recently in their 3-0 win over Brentford on Super Sunday.
Saliba has been called up to the France squad for the Nations League matches against Austria and Denmark this month, having already been capped five times by Didier Deschamps – and the 21-year-old is targeting a starting spot when the World Cup kicks off in November.
“When you represent your country it’s amazing,” Saliba exclusively told Sky Sports Super Sunday Matchday last week.
“My dream is to play in the World Cup with my country and I hope I will be in the team for the World Cup.”
Saliba has been backed by Brentford manager Thomas Frank to become a starting defender for France, after watching him score against his side at the weekend.
“I must say Saliba, ooft! He’s going to be a full international player for France, I’m sure,” Frank said in his post-match press conference. “He’ll play in the starting line-up soon for that national team and that’s a strong national team.”
Saliba’s competition at centre-back for France includes Manchester United defender Raphael Varane, Barcelona’s Jules Kounde, Dayot Upamecano of Bayern Munich and Monaco’s uncapped Benoit Badiashile.
The likes of Clement Lenglet, Kurt Zouma, Presnel Kimpembe and Ibrahima Konate have also been called up by Les Bleus in recent months.
Sky Sports’ Nick Wright:
William Saliba was hundreds of miles away, literally, and, perhaps, figuratively, when Arsenal suffered their ignominious 2-0 loss to Brentford last season. But he is here now. You could not really miss him at the Gtech Community Stadium on Sunday.
The Frenchman, outstanding all season having spent the previous campaign on loan with Marseille, produced arguably his best performance yet to help Arsenal secure a 3-0 win which underlined their transformation over the course of last year.
His goal, his second of the campaign following his superb finish against Bournemouth, showed his aerial threat from set-piece situations, his towering header from Bukayo Saka’s corner bouncing off the inside of the post and over the line.
But it was everything else he did – the “ugly” things, as Mikel Arteta described them afterwards – that made his performance really stand out. Ivan Toney left Arsenal shell-shocked in this fixture last year. This time, he was dominated by Saliba from the start.
The 21-year-old was a colossus, winning duels, snuffing out danger and ensuring a side who scored five goals in their last home game could this time only muster two shots on target.
Even Brentford manager Thomas Frank could not help but be impressed, using his post-match press conference to praise the centre-back’s performance. “He’ll play in the starting line-up for France and that’s a strong international team,” he said.
Saliba relished his physical battle with Toney and he was just as impressive on the ball, providing composure in the face of Brentford’s pressing, at times slaloming away from challenges deep in his own half before sending Arsenal forward on the attack.
His presence is not the sole reason for Arsenal’s transformation. Gabriel Jesus’ impact has been similarly significant and Fabio Vieira, another summer signing, provided a glimpse of his class on Sunday too. But it is Saliba, Arsenal’s new colossus, who best shows the extent of the progress.