William Saliba drew widespread praise for his performance in Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Crystal Palace on Friday night.
The Gunners impressed in attack and kept a clean sheet at the back as they emerged victorious in the opener of the 2022/23 Premier League season.
There was positivity directed at several of the Gunners’ starting XIs, but none more so than 21-year-old centre-back Saliba.
Speaking on talkSPORT after full time, Arsenal legend Martin Keown said: “Saliba – the guy has been at Arsenal for three years now and this is the first time we’ve seen him.
“I think he really should bow out because he deserved an opportunity much sooner than he got tonight.
“If it was me who had the choice, I would go with Saliba for the man of the match.
Keown’s fellow expert Dean Ashton added: “Saliba – for someone so young, I was really, really impressed.
“The few times he stepped in and helped his full-back out – I know it’s just a small thing, but the timing, the way he handled the situation, I think, showed real class.
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“And he almost didn’t come out of nowhere, but he’s not someone that maybe Arsenal thought he was going to start and look really, really good.”
Keown concluded: “I mean they paid £50m for Ben White and Ben White to have to play at right-back because obviously the manager saw something in that player in pre-season, and why not?
“I think actually it paid off and now we have real competition in that central defensive position.”
It was then agreed that Saliba would be named man of the match.
Hearing those remarks from Keown in particular, Saliba told talkSPORT in his post-match interview: “Thank you legend!
“Sometimes we don’t have time to think, we have to react, so I like tackles and I made a big one…
“We knew it would be a tough game, but we stayed strong and focused until the end.
“We defend together and we conceded a few chances. We are still done with the [clean] sheet.”
Praise for Saliba was universal in the broadcast world.
On Sky TV coverage, Gary Neville made a bold comparison.
“I was massively impressed with him,” Neville said, “He actually reminded me of a young Rio Ferdinand.”
Time will tell if the youngster lives up to that billing, although he’s certainly gotten off to a magnificent start.