Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has brushed off comparisons between William Saliba and Liverpool‘s Virgil van Dijk.
Saliba has enjoyed a productive start to the season at the Emirates, playing every minute in all eight of their Premier League games so far this term to help the Gunners set the early pace at the top of the table.
The 21-year-old had spent the previous three seasons out on loan without making a single appearance for Arteta’s side, leading to speculation over his long-term future in North London.
However, he has established himself as a key member of the team this term, with his form leading to debate as to whether he has overtaken Van Dijk as the best defender in the Premier League.
The Dutch centre-back has been widely regarded as the world’s best defender in recent years, but has endured a shaky start to the campaign by his own standards so far.
Arteta acknowledged that Saliba has made a “confident” belated start to life at Arsenal, but insists that he should not be compared to anyone else as he blazes his own trail for the team.
“The way he has established himself [has pleased me],” Arteta told reporters ahead of Sunday’s meeting against Liverpool at the Emirates.
“The composure and leadership he has shown on the pitch in a really natural way without any flashy lights. He has been very quiet and same time very confident.
“I am really happy with where he is at the moment. He is Saliba, he is no-one else.”
Arsenal have won just one of their last 19 meetings with Liverpool inside normal time across all competitions, and have failed to score in any of their last six.
However, they will go into Sunday’s showdown as the favourites in the eyes of many, with 11 points currently separating the two sides in the table.
“It is a really exciting game against one of the top opponents in this league. It will be a really demanding match that is going to require us to be at our best,” Arteta added.
“It is a fixture that everybody is looking for against an opponent that has shown the level they have in the last five and six years.
“We have to show we have raised our level and are able to compete. I am very conscious that we can get much better than where we are today and we have to do better to be the team we want to be and the challenge is to be able to do that every three days.
“You always see the weaknesses you want to improve. We know the fixtures we have been given have no precedence because of the World Cup. Every team is different, every squad is different. If you get injuries it makes the situation much worse.
“If you have robots who can play every three days life is much easier. It is something we have to experience and taste because at the moment we don’t know how it’ll play out.
“I am really happy and proud for the change of dynamic and how the atmosphere is around the club. Looking ahead again at where we want to be…we are not there yet.
“How you measure success is lifting trophies but as well you have to understand where we were and how fractured the club and the environment looked. How it looks now is a credit to everyone.
“I’m not here to judge what Liverpool are. What they have done in the last five years does not need any presentation it is clear they have been up there in every single competition.”
Liverpool are particularly notable opponents for Arteta given his links to their Merseyside rivals Everton as a player too, but the Spaniard admitted that there is less room for passion in the fixture now that he is a manager.
“Those days were really intense. Now you look at the games with a different perspective and you have to be much cooler and prepare many different aspects to be able to beat them on Sunday, so you get away from that,” he added.
Victory for Arsenal this weekend would be their fifth straight win in all competitions.