William Saliba believes he can cope with the pressure of becoming Arsenal’s new No4 and following in the footsteps of one of his childhood heroes, Patrick Vieira.
The 19-year-old, who is hoping to make his debut tonight when Arsenal travel to Leicester City in the Carabao Cup, has been handed the No4 shirt after finishing his season on loan at Saint-Etienne.
The centre-back is honoured to have the number after growing up idolising fellow Frenchmen Thierry Henry and Vieira when they played for Arsenal.
Saliba is already under pressure to succeed after costing £27million, but he is ready also for the added scrutiny of following in the likes of Vieira and Cesc Fabregas’ footsteps.
“I am very, very proud to have the number four, so I have to be ready to carry the number four,” said Saliba.
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)© Provided by Evening Standard (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
“I am very, very happy to be here with good team-mates. I am very excited and I think it is good to be here.
“I had an Arsenal jersey when I was little with Thierry Henry [on the back], so I liked the club since then. So now I am very proud to have the Arsenal jersey.
“I don’t know why [I got it]! I went in the shop, and I only wanted Arsenal. I liked Vieira and Thierry Henry because I was little and I only knew the French players and they were very good.”
Arsenal have been careful integrating Saliba into the first-team squad, with the club wary he is still only 19.
Given his vast experience, David Luiz has been acting as a role model for the youngster and helping him settle into the group.
The centre-back has played for the Under-23s this season and was on the bench for the Community Shield, but the Carabao Cup presents the ideal time for him to make a full debut.
“I think William is doing really well. He is adapting to the country, adapting to our club,” said manager Mikel Arteta.
“We have to bear in mind that he had a really challenging season last year with the amount of injuries that he had.
“But he is a player that is going to be really important in our future. Things sometimes take some time and we have to respect that.”
Another player hoping to make his debut tonight is goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson, who joined Arsenal earlier this week for just over £1m from Dijon.
The Iceland international was brought in off the recommendation of goalkeeping coach Inaki Cana and he has been training with the group this week.
As a result, Runarsson could make his debut at the King Power Stadium tonight and – like Saliba – he is looking to follow in the footsteps of some of his Arsenal heroes.
“I remember watching [David] Seaman play when I was a small kid, the same with Jens Lehmann,” Runarsson told Arsenal’s website.
“Big characters, big personalities but also great goalkeepers. It is not easy to follow those guys but someone has to do it!
“I am still young so I don’t go back that long but the modern style of goalkeepers who can make saves, but also contribute to the team when they are attacking.
“I enjoyed watching Hugo Lloris when he came to the Premier League, playing high outside the box, I also enjoy watching Manuel Neuer because he’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world.”