Football News

Didier Deschamps explains reasons behind Arsenal defender William Saliba U-turn decision

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:00, 18 June 2024

Didier Deschamps made no secret about why Arsenal central defender William Saliba struggled to get regular playing time for the French national team.

The most successful head coach in France’s illustrious history revealed earlier this year that Saliba, a guaranteed starter for Mikel Arteta, “does things that I don’t like very much” before emphasising that competition for places also played a role.

However, things recently changed, with Saliba not only starting in four of France’s last six international matches (the only game he missed was a 0-2 loss to Germany) but also completing the full 90 minutes on all occasions.

A strong campaign with the Gunners may have convinced Deschamps, who fielded him in their Euro 2024 opener against Austria on Monday evening, ahead of Ibrahima Konate, whom many expected to partner Dayot Upamecano.

“If I played Saliba, it’s because I thought he was more ready than Konate for such a match,” he told reporters.

“I don’t want to lose anyone either, we will need everyone. They (Saliba and Upamecano) have 120 minutes together for the France national team, it’s not a lot.

“But they have this ability to be very solid in one-on-one [situations]; even if there were some clearances that they could improve on, they exuded a lot of strength and calmness. We needed that against such an opponent.”

A blemish on what turned out to be another solid performance was a moment late in the game when a clearance from him rebounded into the path of Patrick Wimmer, but the imperious N’Golo Kanté, subsequently named Player of the Match, was on hand to clear it up.

In what could be a sign of things to come, Saliba won possession more than any other player, completing 94% of his passes and winning all his attempted tackles and duels without making a single foul.

Next up is a meeting with the Netherlands, who also won their opening group match, which means there’s an opportunity for the Dutch or Les Bleus to open up a three-point gap heading into matchday three and effectively secure the top spot.

It will be a contest that sees Saliba and Virgil van Dijk, arguably the Premier League’s two best-performing centre-backs, on opposite ends of the pitch, and there’s mutual respect with the Frenchman lauding his counterpart before the competition kicked off.

“I’m not the guy who talks a lot, but I talk more and more. I’m making progress on this. In defence at Arsenal, I am one of the leaders,” he told L’Equipe.

” Van Dijk has aura, for example. He’s the boss, he orders everything. You feel that he scares the attackers. But I’m starting to feel the same way. I’m starting to see that the attackers feel fear. Sometimes when players are in your zone, they’re not having fun. And when there is a one-on-one and the player goes back, takes out the ball, flees the duel, that’s nice.”