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Mikel Arteta right to temper William Saliba expectations

Mikel Arteta tempered William Saliba expectations in his press conference on Tuesday. Given the hopes for the incoming Arsenal defender, such calming of aspirations is justified.

There is always hope for new signings. Even those that many are critical of when the transfer is completed usually convince fans to be positive about their prospects once the new season rolls around. It is an inherently dangerous place to be. Expectation is both a huge motivator and a potential pitfall.

Few players will arrive in the Premier League with as high and unjust expectations as William Saliba next season. The young Arsenal defender, who was signed last summer in a £26 million deal but will not play for the club until the 2020/21 season after he was loaned back to St. Etienne for his first full campaign as a senior professional, arrives in north London as the heralded saviour of a ghastly defence.

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But Saliba is a 19-year-old centre-back who has played just 36 senior appearances in his career. He made only 12 league appearances last season after dealing with a raft of injuries and has never played outside of France. To expect such a player to waltz into the Arsenal defence and immediately solve it is hugely foolish, to say the least.

This week, in his pre-match press conference ahead of Wednesday’s match against Norwich City, Mikel Arteta tempered expectations regarding Saliba’s arrival at the club and anticipated performance levels next season:

“We’ve been following him this season and as a young player, he had a really difficult season with injuries that he’s had. But again, it’s part of his progress. I know how high the expectations are of him for next year but we have to bear in mind the age that he’s at and what he’s done in the past. I’ll make sure that we create the right environment for him so that he can keep growing as a player.”

This, of course, is entirely justified. Saliba is a hugely talented young defender who is highly thought of throughout French football and at Arsenal, but the shortcomings across the backline are to such an extent that a rookie teenager with no prior Premier League experience will have to be truly sensational to solve them.

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Arteta has inspired much improvement in the defence. Goals conceded have reduced significantly, expected goals conceded figures are better, too. Following on from a hapless Unai Emery structure in which the team was painfully easy to play through, Arteta has implemented a clear approach, a greater clarity, and a more impactful defensive shape.

However, this is still a backline littered with individual errors and inconsistencies. David Luiz was torrid for 25 minutes against Manchester City. Brighton scored two horribly soft goals last weekend, while the clean sheet against Southampton was then marred by an awful goal against Sheffield United as Rob Holding was caught under a long throw and Sead Kolasinac haplessly kicked the ball into his back.

Next: Arsenal Vs Norwich City: Predicted starting XI

One man will not fix the defence. Especially when that man is a French teenager with almost no senior experience. And so, as Saliba prepares to arrive in north London as the appointed saviour, Arteta is keen to temper expectations. He is certainly justified to do so.

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