Mikel Arteta was quick to play down suggestions that William Saliba could emulate the success of Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has played down suggestions defender William Saliba could one day reach the heights of Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk, insisting the Frenchman is out to make his “own career”.
Saliba has enjoyed an excellent start to the season with the Gunners and has been largely responsible for their incredible early-season form, which sees them sit top of the Premier League table, as he has developed an exceptional partnership with fellow centre-back Gabriel Magalhaes.
But the Frenchman will face his toughest test of the season thus far when Jurgen Klopp’s side roll into North London on Sunday afternoon looking to finally kick-start their domestic campaign after a stuttering first six weeks. If Tuesday’s compelling 2-0 victory against Rangers in the Champions League is anything to measure, Klopp could field as many as four attacking players, including £64m signing Darwin Nunez, in a revamped 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 formation.
Having joined Arsenal in 2019 from Saint-Etienne, Saliba was forced to wait three years for his Premier League berth in Arteta’s side as he was forced to refine his defensive skill set during multiple loan spells in Ligue 1 between 2019 and 2021.
But ahead of Sunday’s bout with the Reds, who Arteta has only beaten once during his time as Arsenal manager, the Spaniard has played down talk that Saliba could one day reach the heights of Van Dijk, who has guided the Reds to European and domestic success since he signed from Southampton for a club-record £75m in January 2018.
“Wow, what a question!” Arteta responded to reporters’ comparisons of Van Dijk on Friday afternoon. “He’s been very quiet but at the same time very confident. I’m really with where he is at the moment. He’s William Saliba, he’s no one else. He needs to make his own career.
“I think the way he has established himself, the composure and leadership he has shown on the pitch and he has done it in a really natural way with no flashing light, just being himself
While the Gunners currently sit one point ahead of reigning champions Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, for Liverpool and Klopp it has been a lethargic start to the campaign. Having missed out on unprecedented quadruple glory last term, and tinkered with their front line during the summer months, Klopp’s side find themselves lounging in ninth ahead of their visit to the capital. But Arteta is refusing to label Liverpool as a team in transition, instead suggesting Sunday’s opponents are still the benchmark for sides in England.
I’m not here to judge what Liverpool are,” Arteta added. “I’m here to talk about what we do. I think what they’ve done in the last five years doesn’t need any presentation, it’s clear. They’ve been up there in every single competition in the last five years so credit to what they have done.
I think every team is [a work in progress], and our team is as well. You are always going to get better. You always see as well the weaknesses you want to prove, what is certain is they are a magnificent team.”