Rio Ferdinand has warned Arsenal fans not to overdo William Saliba and named four Premier League defenders who were better than the France international at the same age.
Saliba had impressed in the opening weeks of the new season, playing a key role in a run of five straight wins that had propelled Mikel Arteta’s revamped side to the top of the table.
However, the Gunners failed the first acid test of their credentials on Sunday when they were punished by a rejuvenated Manchester United who capitalized on Arsenal’s defensive naivety.
Marcus Rashford struck twice on the counter-attack to help United secure three valuable points with Saliba caught off guard by the England striker’s movement and arguably at fault for both goals.
Saliba’s early performances, after finally breaking through at Arsenal three years after joining from Saint Etienne, had drawn comparisons to Ferdinand for his elegance and confidence on the ball.
However, Ferdinand dismissed those comparisons, choosing four of his former international team-mates who he felt performed at a higher level than 21-year-old Saliba at the same age.
He told Vibe: “Jonathan Woodgate, Sol Campbell, John Terry, trust me. Woodgate 100% without hesitation.
‘Wes Brown at 21. He won the Champions League. He’s been on the three-time winning team, he’s played games on that team.
On Saliba’s performance at Old Trafford, Ferdinand added: “He failed the Rashford test. You don’t have to pressure Saliba, he only has five games, just let him play.
“You’re drooling over Saliba but he’s probably in the dressing room thinking I’ve got my DNA on two, maybe three of the goals in some shape or form.
“Some people might say three, I say two. His fingerprints are on two of the goals and he sits there with 0 points out of the game.
“He’s playing offside. The manager didn’t tell him that. They have not been flagged for offside at any other point in the game.
“He’s on the halfway line thinking he’s last man and stepping over the halfway line to play for offside if Ben White plays him on the side.”
Despite this criticism, Ferdinand is confident that if Saliba is allowed to progress without the pressure of being compared to the all-time greats, he will develop into a top-class centre-back.
He said: “I actually think Saliba has a really good chance of becoming a really, really good player. He just needs time.
“All that pressure you put on him by putting him against people, I don’t think he needs it. He was on loan last season. His first big test, to be honest, was at Old Trafford in a big Signature game.
“As a centre-back you can’t sit there and say he played well when you conceded three goals, please don’t try to tell me that. In the end he has three goals in the net.
“You can’t say that, I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I’m not saying he’s not a good player, you can’t sit there and concede three goals and waste him.
“Personal pride would not allow it. If we conceded a goal or two goals in a game and we lost and no goals are directly my fault, we take it as a team.’
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