William Saliba has revealed the desire to play at least once for the club he supported as a boy drove him on throughout his three loan spells away from Emirates Stadium.
The Frenchman has been a mainstay in our side this season, playing all but 14 minutes of our Premier League campaign so far which sees us top the table as February draws to a close.
Now a fixture in our side, it’s easy to forget he only made his debut on the opening day against Crystal Palace back in August, having spent his first three years as an Arsenal player on loan at St Etienne, Nice and Marseille back in his homeland.
Having grown up as a Gooner, his desperation to make an impact at Emirates Stadium drove him on to make the impact he has this term, and now he wants to keep developing and really etch his name into our history.
Reflecting on his time away, he said: “It helped me a lot because when you are a young player you have to play to improve, so that’s why I took the chance to improve, make mistakes and grow up as well. It was a good experience for me, and I came back better.
“I didn’t play one single game here so I always thought about that. I couldn’t leave this amazing club without playing so I always had it in my head to come back and play.
“Before I returned, I wanted to play every game but I didn’t know if that would happen. I worked hard and everyone at the club helped me to be a good starter, but it is not finished. I have to keep going and training hard because we are all good; even the players who don’t start. We are all at the same level so that’s good competition.
“I want to win everything possible here, and to put the club back on the very top. I want to win every title.
“We all want to win the Premier League, and I’ve never won a trophy so that’s why I work every day, but we know we have 15 games left and it’s not going to be easy. We have to focus and never give up because the Premier League is hard.”
William’s pre-season displays indicated to Mikel Arteta that his time away had prepared him perfectly for English top-flight football, and the French international feels that he, as well as the rest of his teammates, are benefitting from the passion his manager shows every day.
Offering an insight into Mikel’s methods, he added: “What you see on the pitch is the same inside the training ground. He loves his job and he gives us that feeling, and it’s good to have a coach like that.
“Before the game, he always talks well and when you get on the pitch, you want to do well because the way he speaks makes you want to fight. You can see that he trusts me.”
That trust comes despite the fact that William is still only 21 years old, but that also allows him to fit seamlessly into a team brimming with other young talent such as Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and skippered by 24-year-old Martin Odegaard.
Despite being young, all are full internationals and boast experience that belies their years, and William feels the attitude of the squad means anyone can have their say when they need to, regardless of how old they may be.
“We have a young team but we have a lot of leaders,” he continued. “Everyone can speak and if you do something bad, every player can tell you. It’s good to have a team like that - everyone understands and can talk.
“When we celebrate some goals, you can see that the team is so close, we are all friends and we are so happy to do everything together, so we have to keep going like that.
“We have a good mentality; even when we had some moments where we drew or lost, we kept believing and remained positive, and that's why we won on Saturday.”
One of the standout moments this season was the creation of William’s chant by our supporters, which has been sung heartily up and down the country throughout the campaign.
He admits he’d love to show his appreciation for it during games, but enjoys performing the art of defending amongst the background buzz generated by our supporters. Because of that, he wants to gain three points for them this weekend when we head to Leicester City aiming to - albeit potentially briefly - extend our lead at the top of the table.
Discussing our supporters, he chuckled: “Since the first time they sang my chant, I’m always happy. I can’t smile in the game because I have to be focused! I love it so much.
“When we play we can feel the atmosphere because it makes us much better and more confident. I wasn’t there [for the past three seasons] but I heard it has changed a lot, and this season is something else. We have to keep going to make them happy.
“It is never easy to play away. Leicester are a good team with a good manager and good players as well, so we have to be careful but try to win there.”
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