William Saliba continues his Premier League rise with the chokehold of Ivan Toney
From the Gtech Community Stadium – For a few decades now, Arsenal have been considered a “soft” side in Premier League folklore.
Patrick Vieira misses them. They don’t like it when the games get tough. They hate when you kick them. They hate being hit on the head with a lead pipe.
It’s a label that’s sometimes unfairly bestowed upon them, a sort of running gag that’s been endorsed through confirmation bias even though there’s a shred of truth to the claims.
But make no mistake, Arsenal aren’t so ‘soft’ anymore.
Even last season – when they undid all their good work, imploded in the process and handed rivals Tottenham fourth place – the Gunners still represented their unwanted reputation. If they were to succeed and secure Champions League qualification this time around, they would have to toughen up and act smarter.
Proven winner signings in Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko helped Mikel Arteta complete his vision, but William Saliba’s return and hold was also seismic.
Back in north London after a string of loans as a full France international, Gunners fans will be eager to finally see their defensive prodigy in Arsenal red. They were not disappointed.
Saliba was one of the Premier League’s leading defenders on his return to these shores, and his position rose further in Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Brentford on Sunday.
The imposing 21-year-old broke the deadlock with a deft, rounded header early in the first half, providing a tangible spark just when it looked like the bees were growing in the game.
From there, Saliba dominated the day and was the backbone of Arsenal’s rout – very few teams will be able to silence Brentford with the various threats at their disposal.
Saliba’s defensive toughness made it the complete reverse of that same game last season when Arsenal withered into the spotlight and were roughed up by the Bees.
Where Ben White was roundly criticized for his inability to fight even against Ivan Toney, Saliba joins a small list of defenders for instead making his life hell.
The Brentford talisman, the expected protagonist of the day after his England call-up and Gunners tweet saga, has been snuffed out of the game with a ruthlessness and professionalism that should be far beyond Saliba’s experience. It doesn’t make sense for a 21 year old to be this dominating against one of the most mischievous snipers in the league.
Thanks to Saliba, Gunners fans were able to dance on the terraces of Gtech Community Stadium taunting Toney (even though they misinterpreted what he actually said about them). It was his contributions at both ends of the pitch that saw Arsenal head into the international break as league leaders.
It’s still early days for Saliba – neither he nor his team are the finished article – but his early promise mirrors that of the team, which grows in stature with each win, moving closer to a top-four return. It would be a shock if his trajectory to the top of the league did not continue.