William Saliba has revealed that he is still not quite fully fit, despite having started for Arsenal in the last two games.

William Saliba played the full 90 minutes for Arsenal against Nottingham Forest in their opening Premier League game of the new season on Saturday. Just a week before, he had played the full match, including extra time, against Manchester City in the Gunners’ Community Shield triumph at Wembley Stadium.

Despite these exertions, the French centre-back is still not fully recovered from the injury that ruled him out of the last few matches of last season.

If anything can be used to underline Saliba’s importance at the Emirates Stadium, it is the fallout of his absence last season. The 22-year-old’s injury coincided with the wheels coming off of Arsenal’s Premier League title push. Whilst there were other factors at play, Saliba’s unavailability was undeniably a big moment in Arsenal’s loss of momentum in the final stretch of the campaign.

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Arsenal FC v Nottingham Forest - Premier League
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Arteta must handle Saliba with care

Saliba brings so much to the way Arsenal play that it’s obvious why Mikel Arteta was unwilling to go without him from the off this season. That being said, the Spanish coach needs to learn the lessons of the past and tread carefully. A significant setback in these final stages of Saliba’s rehabilitation would be disastrous for the north London club.

Speaking after the match, Saliba said, “I’m not 100 per cent at the moment but I give everything to come back, because it’s been a long time. I didn’t play as I was injured, and I’m so happy to be with the team…It’s always better [to play in front of our supporters]. You don’t feel pressure, you don’t feel any pain, it’s good,” as quoted by the club’s official website.

With all due respect to Nottingham Forest, Arsenal should have been confident in their ability to secure the win at the Emirates Stadium with Saliba on the bench. Arteta was clearly willing to shake up his defence for this fixture, as Gabriel was left out for tactical reasons.

Arsenal have already been dealt one injury blow this season, with new signing Jurrien Timber limping off against Forest. Perhaps game time is exactly what Saliba needs right now to get fully up to speed with his fitness, but Arteta certainly shouldn’t be taking any unnecessary risks with such a valuable player.

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