‘Saliba already under pressure at Arsenal’ – Keown feels for new £27m signing at Emirates Stadium

William Saliba Saint-Etienne 2019-20
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The former Gunners defender believes struggles at the back and a long wait for a fresh face to arrive mean the youngster is thrown in at the deep end

William Saliba is under pressure at Arsenal before he has even kicked a ball in anger, claims Martin Keown.

The Gunners tied up a £27 million (€30m/$35m) deal for the promising centre-half back in the summer of 2019.

Part of that agreement with Saint Etienne included a season-long loan option that would keep the France U20 international in his homeland for another 12 months. Arsenal are now welcoming Saliba onto their books, with expectation building as the 19-year-old prepares to make his bow.

The Gunners’ struggles in defence over recent years have been well documented, with Mikel Arteta being urged to address those issues.

The hope is that Saliba will help to plug the leaks having starred in Ligue 1, but Keown is wary of demanding too much from a relatively inexperienced performer and Premier League novice.

Quizzed on whether an Emirates Stadium new boy is seeing undue pressure placed on his shoulders, former Gunners centre-half Keown said in The Independent: “There definitely is. It is one of those where I would have been happier if Arsenal had paid more money and brought him in straight at the start of last season.

“There have long-been questions over the Arsenal defence and Saliba was expensive, but he is also young and has not played that many professional games. It can’t be expected that he will walk straight into Arsenal, right into the team and be on it from the off.”

It may be that Saliba gets eased into the fold by Arteta, with Arsenal still being linked with a number of other defensive options including Lille star Gabriel Magalhaes and Malang Sarr of Nice.

They also still have numerous centre-halves on their books, including Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi. Kieran Tierney has also been used as part of a three-man defence, while Sead Kolasinac boasts the versatility to fill an array of positions.

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Keown believes sales will be sanctioned before the 2020-21 campaign gets underway, but concedes that finding buyers for certain underperforming players will not be easy.

He added: “There are eight or nine central defenders contracted to the football club. So there is almost a team of central defenders and obviously Arteta can’t retain all of them so some of them should be moved out – even if some are currently injured now.

“Arteta might not feel he can shift any of those defenders this summer but the board will probably tell him he has to get rid of players in that position if he wants to sign a new centre-back.”