Arsenal legend Nigel Winterburn says William Saliba will have to adapt quickly to the ‘ruthless’ nature of the Premier League with the teenager in contention to make his debut away at Fulham on Saturday.
Saliba signed for the Gunners last summer in a deal worth £27million, but was immediately loaned back to Saint-Etienne for another season. The 19-year-old has now been integrated with the squad and played in two pre-season friendlies ahead of the new Premier League campaign.
The centre-back may have been eased into first-team action slowly were it not for a neck injury to David Luiz, which could offer Saliba an early chance to impress.
Arsenal travel to Craven Cottage on Saturday to take on newly-promoted Fulham, who will likely field combative No.9 Aleksandar Mitrovic.
Should Saliba or new centre-back signing Gabriel Magalhaes make their debut, Winterburn is expecting a baptism of fire for either of the young defenders.
‘He [Mitrovic] is quite robust isn’t he, he’s got good attributes as well,’ Winterburn told Metro.co.uk. ‘If Gabriel or Saliba make their debut, I think Scott Parker is going to tell them,
“These guys are new, they don’t know what the Premier League is like, don’t make it easy for them”. ‘Saying that, you’ve got to learn very, very quickly, the Premier League is ruthless.
‘If you’re fearful of it and you’re worried about coming up against some of the best players in the world then you’re not in the right league. ‘It’s certainly going to test you, not only your attributes as a player but mentally as well.
‘If our new guys are going to play, particularly the fact that they’re in defensive roles, it’s going to tell us a lot about them very, very quickly, because the Premier League can expose you very quickly as well.’
David Luiz would most likely have lined up in the centre of Mikel Arteta’s back three to face Fulham, having nailed down the position last season. Winterburn admits a longer-term injury for the Brazilian would be a major blow for the Gunners.
‘I haven’t seen any of the new players in action, I don’t know whether they’re ready, whether Mikel Arteta thinks they’re going to be ready to come straight in,’ the former Gunners full-back added.
‘Luiz would’ve been a certainty because in the three I think he’s ideal as the middle centre-half because you want him as I call it the freedom player, who is comfortable on the ball.
‘Yes, he makes the odd mistake but also, I think as well he’s proven that when he’s given that type of role, his distributions very good, he can play out from the back, I think the back three suits down to the ground. ‘So, I actually think that’s potentially is going to be a big, big loss for the start of the season.’