Here’s what you’re missing, Mikel! Arsenal outcast William Saliba wins Man of the Match award in just his second game on loan for Nice as his last-minute intervention helps earn a much-needed point against Metz
- French defender William Saliba joined Nice on loan from Arsenal last week
- The 19-year-old was thrown into action two days after joining against Brest
- That was his first competitive game for 10 months but impressed on Saturday
- He beat team-mates Amine Gouri and Youcef Atal to seal the best player award
Arsenal loanee William Saliba reminded his parent club and Mikel Arteta of his abilities by winning the Man of the Match award in just his second game for Nice.
The 19-year-old joined the Ligue 1 side on loan for the remainder of the season last week and was thrown into action just two days after joining in the defeat by Brest.
That was his first competitive first-team game since March 8 last year for Saint-Etienne against Bordeaux, but was voted Nice’s best player on Saturday in the 1-1 draw against Metz.
Arsenal’s William Saliba won the Man of the Match award in just his second game for Nice since joining them on loan last week
He made a crucial, stoppage-time challenge on Metz’s Thierry Ambrose to ensure his new side got a draw
Saliba saw off competition from his new team-mates Amine Gouri and Youcef Atal to seal the award.
Nice took an early lead through Gouiri’s penalty but were denied what would have been just a second league win in nine matches when Metz captain John Boye equalised with 11 minutes remaining.
Saliba was impressive, just as he had been against Brest, but did show his inexperience by losing his man in the build-up to Metz restoring parity.
However, he atoned for the error by making an excellent challenge on Thierry Ambrose in stoppage time to ensure the spoils were shared at the State Saint-Symphorien.
Saliba played his first first-team game last week for 10 months, which came for Saint Etienne
The former Manchester City youth player appeared to have the upper hand on Saliba and raced towards goal, only for the centre-back to demonstrate his brilliant recovery pace to nudge Ambrose off the ball and carry it away from danger.
But it represents the challenge Saliba faces in shoring up Nice’s defence with Adrian Ursea’s side looking to finish higher in the table than their current position of 13th, having sacked former Gunners midfielder Patrick Vieira as boss last month after a run of five successive defeats.
Saliba was signed by Arsenal in 2019 for £27million from Saint-Etienne but has yet to figure for the first team, with Gunners boss Mikel Arteta reluctant to throw the Frenchman into the rigours of English football before he feels he is ready.
There were reports of the Spaniard’s concerns about Saliba’s positioning and his tendency to slide into tackles in the summer, while having also declared at the start of this season that he still needed a ‘transitional year’ after injuries and the coronavirus pandemic halted his development in 2019/20.
The Frenchman has yet to appear for the Gunners’ first-team after joining for £27m in 2019
‘The coach immediately told me that I was not ready,’ Saliba said at his Nice unveiling on Friday. ‘I would have at least liked to have had a chance to rediscover my rhythm.
‘My first six months were difficult, because I was coming from six months where I wasn’t able to train because I was at home and couldn’t train outside, couldn’t play.
‘I arrived there as they were finishing the league season, so I was training alone. As soon as they came back from holidays, we quickly had the first friendly matches where I lacked rhythm and was a bit insufficient physically.’
Gunners boss Mikel Arteta does not believe the youngsters is ready for his first team yet
Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere however has expressed the club’s interest of extending the loan into next season, stating: ‘Let’s let him rediscover enjoying being on the pitch, playing.
‘At the end of the 6 months, we’ll see – today he’s owned by a club called Arsenal. Everyone in June will come together and decide.
‘A door is always open in life. When you have a situation where parties can talk, the doors are open. We are not there yet.’
Nice president Jean-Pierre Rivere (right) has expressed their interest of extending the loan