William Saliba can now call himself a senior France international. The Arsenal defender, currently on loan at Marseille, was a late addition to Didier Deschamps’ squad following the withdrawal of Benjamin Pavard through injury and made his debut one day after celebrating his birthday.
And despite this being the 21-year-old’s first call-up at this level, he was given an immediate taste of senior international football as Les Bleus came from behind to beat Ivory Coast 2-1 in a competitive friendly between the two nations on Friday night.
Nicolas Pepe had actually threatened to somewhat ruin his teammate’s big occasion after he opened the scoring in the 19th minute by beating Hugo Lloris at his near post with a fine strike. Although, France equalised through ex-Gunners striker Olivier Giroud and then claimed the victory when rising star Aurelien Tchouameni netted in the closing stages.
But for those connected to Arsenal the big moment came just before the half hour mark, when Saliba replaced Manchester United defender Raphael Varane in perhaps what could be viewed as a sign of things to come in the future if the former continues to develop at his current rate.
As far as debuts go, Saliba’s was solid. Operating in the middle of a back three alongside Jules Kounde and Lucas Hernandez, he kept his passes simple, stepped out of the defence with the ball when the opportunity arose, made a decent clearance to ensure he kept a clean sheet on his France bow and many in attendance loved seeing him in action.
As spotted on Reddit, upon entering the fray, the youngster was greeted with a huge ovation from the crowd inside the Stade Velodrome which is, of course, where Marseille play their home games. Furthermore, each time he touched the ball it drew loud cheers from the crowd as he is very much a fan favourite.
There has been talk of Saliba joining the Ligue 1 outfit on a permanent basis in the summer transfer window. The defender himself has admitted he would be open to extending his Marseille stay, but he will know more about his future following talks between Arsenal and his representatives in the coming weeks.
“I never hid that I felt good here,” he told RMC Sport. “I don’t know my future, there are two months left. The most important thing is to qualify for the Champions League and go as far as possible in the Conference League. I think there will be discussions afterwards, at the end of May, beginning of June, with Arsenal and Marseille. We will decide at that time. But it is sure that continuing here would not be a bad idea. On the contrary, I know the city, my team-mates, my coach. But it’s not just up to me. We’ll see how it goes, but it also depends on Arsenal, who has to agree. We’ll see.”
With Benjamin White and Gabriel Magalhaes forging an impressive partnership this season, Saliba can add to Arsenal’s strong group of central defenders if he is to be included in Mikel Arteta’s plans for the 2022/23 campaign. Although, he may have to be patient to get a run in the side.