The chatter about central defenders in the Premier League used to be about Virgil van Dijk, Harry Maguire, Jon Stones, Antonio Rudiger, Nathan Ake, the old boy Chelsea signed and even Tyrone Mings. The best of course, or at least the player most praised by pundits galore, has been VvD. The man mountain, the heartbeat of Klopps defence, the colossus. Well, step aside all of them because there’s a new kid on the block and he’s Arsenal’s. William Alain André Gabriel Saliba. Perhaps we could have done with him last season, but let’s forget he’s still only 21 years old. At St Etienne, Nice and then Marseille, he made the mistakes he needed to, he learned and grew both mentally and physically and being in France, his family and friends were never far away if he needed them. I must admit to being a critic of Saliba going out on loan but now, as everything seems to be falling into place at the club, I was wrong. Very wrong because now we have a mature defender playing for Arsenal. Not so much in years, but in experience. Dijk was five or six years older than Saliba is now when he signed for Liverpool and at 31 years old, his best days might already be behind him whereas our Frenchman has ten years on him and as long as he’s happy at Arsenal and Arsenal are happy with him, those years might be in north London. That’s unless the oil rich clubs don’t come calling with an offer Arsenal cannot turn down.
The knock-on affect of Saliba’s arrival is Ben White turning into one of the best, if not the best, right-back in the Premier League. Does his £50 million transfer fee seem high now? No, I don’t think so either and certainly not when one looks back at some of the transfer fees paid for players this summer by other clubs. Ok, Takehiro Tomiyasu is having to take a back seat right now but that’s life as a footballer and considering he was out injured for so long, he’s probably being handled with care. Just as Gabriel Martinelli was, much to my disappointment and even disapproval but yet again, I was wrong because it’s now he and the team are reaping the rewards of a fully fit player.
Kieran Tierney is another one who until Oleksandr Zinchenko suffered injury himself, was being used sparingly. Rightly so too in my opinion because of his injury history. Plus, once Zinchenko played for the team, it was clear to see that he was more than just healthy competition for Tierney. Then, when Tierney has been called upon, he’s played really well and that’s exactly why competition for places is important.
The player who has possibly, even probably, surprised many of us the most so far this season is Granit Xhaka, captain Granit Xhaka in the absence of Martin Odegaard. It’s easy to say ‘I told you so’ when the suggestions of playing him further up the pitch were made on here, but now we’re seeing Xhaka doing what he does best. Probably because the team is stronger at the back with the changes Mikel Arteta has made. Xhaka’s pace, or rather lack of it, is not such an issue because he’s no longer having to make last ditch challenges with his timing often all wrong so in turn, his discipline has improved. Not that it stopped David Coote from awarding him an unnecessary booking against Brentford but perhaps Coote didn’t realise it was only his second of the season.
I read online somewhere, probably in the Mirror on Daily Mail, that Bukayo Saka isn’t his usual self this season or he’s quiet in games. Is he though, or has the level of team/squad just gone up a notch so he’s not standing out as much? Because let’s face it, we’re playing some of the best football we as a club has played for a long long time. In every fixture this season, Arsenal have played really well and that’s what’s different. Consistency, rather than a good performance for one or two matches or even one or two halves of a match. There’s room for improvement, of course there is and there always should be. In my opinion, we’re still a couple of players short but they’ll come, of that I’m sure.
Brentford boss Thomas Frank reckons we’re Premier League contenders but I disagree. I don’t think it’ll be long before we are though. I mean proper contenders. Beat Totts, City and Liverpool next month though and I might have to rethink….
See you in the comments.