Saliba celebrates first Nice win as Arsenal crash out of FA Cup
For most players, staff and supporters connected with Arsenal, it was a bad day on Saturday, but there was at least some joy for William Saliba.
While the potential arrival of Martin Odeegaard from Real Madrid will come as a boost to Arsenal fans, their defence of the FA Cup came to an abrupt end.
An under-strength Gunners team lost 1-0 at Southampton in the fourth round, as Gabriel scored an own goal.
Nicolas Pepe and Willian struggled to make an attacking impact and the Gunners were eliminated.
Saliba, though, was one Arsenal player who was able to celebrate.
The 19-year-old defender, who was recently praised for the astonishing leadership he is already showing on loan at Nice, earned a first victory for his new club.
Nice won 1-0 away to Lens in Ligue 1, ending a poor recent run of results.
Saliba had endured a difficult debut when Nice went down to defeat against Brest on January 6.
He played well in the following matches against Metz and Bordeaux, but his side only collected one point from those games.
Saliba tasted victory at the fourth attempt on Saturday, with Youcef Atal scoring the only goal early in the second half.
Saliba performance versus Lens
The youngster played the full 90 minutes for a fourth straight game, playing on the left of a back three.
Per FootballCritic, Saliba was the highest-rated Nice defender.
Saliba won two of his three aerial duels, had five clearances and three recoveries.
He completed 90% of his 48 passes and helped contribute to a Nice defensive display that won the praise of head coach Adrian Ursea.
It was Nice’s first win in six attempts, their last coming on December 16, which was before Saliba arrived this month.
“Given what had happened in the previous matches, where we had given away a lot, we said that we needed to keep things tight defensively, that we need to remain united and solid,” said Ursea.
“From that moment on, you start to find a team. When we work as a block, you start to see that. That is what we wanted.
“It is a nice feeling. This win makes us happy.
“Especially after the week that we have just had, with the discussions that we had and the supporters coming to the training ground.”
Saliba signed for Arsenal in the summer of 2019 and was loaned back to former club Saint-Etienne last season.
He was frozen out under Gunners boss Mikel Arteta on his return, told he was not ready to play for the first team and subsequently not included in their Premier League squad for 2020/21.