I’m sure you’ve seen the tackle by now.
If you haven’t allow me to paint a picture. It’s Le Classique, one of the fiercest rivalries in Europe and the atmosphere in the Velodrome is intense. Marseille and PSG are locked in a fascinating 0-0 draw, with both sides having goals chalked off, and the visitors losing Achraf Hakimi to a red card.
Then, in the 83rd minute, PSG’s marquee signing, Lionel Messi spots a gap and quick as a flash, plays through Kylian Mbappe and the Frenchman races away to bear down on Pau Lopez’s goal. It’s a sight we’ve seen so often, and it seemed as if it was only a matter of time before the net rippled.
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But it didn’t.
Instead Mbappe was denied by an inch-perfect challenge from the Marseille defender who somehow kept up with the electric World Cup winner. That Marseille defender was William Saliba, out on another sojourn back to France from parent club Arsenal. The tackle? It was majestic. Just watch.
It was a masterful performance from Saliba on the whole as he completed 96% of his passes, won six duels, completed three of his four tackles and didn’t commit a single foul. Not bad going given PSG unleashed Angel Di Maria, Neymar, Mbappe and Messi from the start.
“It was an A+ performance, a perfect game” effuses Maxime Dupuis from Eurosport France, who we got in touch with to go a little bit more in-depth on Saliba. Dupuis calls the tackle “possibly the play of the match” and speaking after the match Saliba admitted it was “the best game of my career.”
Saliba is a curious one. He’s never appeared for the senior Arsenal team but has spent the last three years in France, with former club Saint-Etienne, then OGC Nice and now Marseille. He has suffered with injuries but generally whenever he plays, especially recently, he plays pretty well.
Yet Arsenal and Mikel Arteta seem reluctant to give him a chance in the Premier League and as far as Dupuis is concerned that makes no sense.
“He was already good in Saint-Etienne”, Dupuis says when asked about the development made by Saliba over the past few years.

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 24: Kylian Mbappe of PSG, William Saliba of Marseille during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between Olympique Marseille (OM) and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Stade Velodrome on October 24, 2021 in Marseille, France. (Photo by John

Image credit: Getty Images

“Arsenal is an incomprehensible black hole in the start of his career.”
It’s hard not to disagree with Dupuis. Arsenal have the joint-ninth worst defensive record in the league and it’s been some time since the club really had a long-term anchor at the back. There are hopes that Ben White can do that, but he hasn’t been exactly consistent. By contrast in France, it’s been a solid first few months for Saliba, who has helped Marseille to the fourth-best defensive record in Ligue 1. Only conceding one goal more than the league leaders and defending champions from the capital.
So how has Saliba been getting on so far? Dupuis says that he has been “calm, serene and confident. His tackle on Mbappe is absolute proof of this."

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 24: Kylian Mbappe of PSG, William Saliba of Marseille (left) during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between Olympique Marseille (OM) and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) at Stade Velodrome on October 24, 2021 in Marseille, France. (Photo

Image credit: Getty Images

“He has been like this since he arrived at Marseille," Dupuis continues.
“I don’t know if there’s a Sampaoli effect but he [Saliba] has been excellent thus far.”
Dupuis confirms that there is no purchase option in the contract but does add “I’m not so sure he’s keen to come back to Arsenal with Arteta.”
So why then would Arteta not want to try Saliba? Maybe he’s been listening to Ligue 1 “expert” Jonathan Pearce, who drew ire on social media on Sunday for his comments while commentating the game.
“Saliba is not ready for the Premier League. He makes too many mistakes," claimed Pearce.
“He’s still only 20, but Arsenal fans should accept this at this moment. He might be good enough one day, and maybe he might not.”

LILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 03: William Saliba of Olympique de Marseille runs with the ball during the Ligue 1 Uber Eats match between Lille and Marseille at Stade Pierre Mauroy on October 03, 2021 in Lille, France. (Photo by Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images)

Image credit: Getty Images

Some might argue that taking Ligue 1 scouting advice from Jonathan Pearce is the same as taking international relations lessons from Donald Trump. And they’d be right. This season Saliba is yet to make an error per FBREF. Last season he made just two, the season before just one.
We ask Dupuis whether he thinks Saliba has any weaknesses.
“At the start of this season, I would say... no. Nothing obvious," he said.
“But it's only three months and I'm sure Arsenal had found something we haven't seen yet,” Dupuis adds.
“And I talked a lot about his defensive skills but when he gets the ball in his feet, he knows what to do with it as well as being an excellent defender.”
So why isn’t Saliba playing for Arsenal? Only Arteta will know.
At least this season he gets to play in Europe to add a different tactical side of his game. But moving forward? It’s hard to say. When he returns to north London this summer he will be entering the final two years of his contract. That means Arsenal will have to make a decision on him. If they don’t offer him first time football you imagine there will be top clubs in Europe who certainly will, and maybe he’ll start to explore other options. For now, let’s just watch that Mbappe tackle over and over again.
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