By George Sessions, PA
Mikel Arteta has told Arsenal centre-back William Saliba to ignore comparisons with Virgil van Dijk ahead of Sunday’s clash with Liverpool.
Saliba has made a fine start to the campaign and his excellent form has contributed towards the Gunners sitting at the Premier League summit after eight matches.
A true test of Arsenal’s title credentials will come against Liverpool at the Emirates and the focus will inevitably be placed on Saliba.
While the France international joined the club in 2019, it is only now he is getting a run of games – after spells away on loan – and his bright start has generated debate over whether he could become as good as Liverpool defender Van Dijk.
“Wow, that’s a really big question,” Arteta replied when asked about the comparison.
“I am really happy with where he is at the moment. He is Saliba, he’s no-one else and he needs to make his own career.
“The way he has established himself, the composure and leadership he has shown on the pitch has been really good.
“And then that he has done it in a really natural way without any flashing lights, just being himself. He’s very quiet and at the same time very confident.”
While positivity surrounds Arsenal at the minute, with the club winning nine of their opening 10 matches in all competitions this season, Liverpool have faced a tricky start.
Jurgen Klopp conceded his side were a work in progress last month with the Reds currently in ninth.
But Arteta insisted: “I’m not here to judge where Liverpool are. What they have done in the last five years doesn’t need any presentation. It’s clear.
“They have been up there in every single competition for the last five years, so credit to them for what they’ve done.
“Again another really exciting game to play in front of our people against one of the toughest opponents in this league. It will be a really demanding match which will require us to be at our best again.”
The Liverpool clash is Arsenal’s third in a run of 13 matches during a 43-day period before the league pauses for the winter World Cup.
Arteta knows the demands on his squad are tough but accepts the situation.
“We know that the fixtures that we have been given have no precedent in this league because of the World Cup and everything we have to play in between,” he said.
“Every team is different, every squad is different. If you pick up injuries, it makes the situation much worse. If everyone is available and you have robust players that can play every three days, it makes life much easier.
“It is something we have to experience and taste.”