Arsenal vs Fulham: Intriguing heavyweight match-up key as William Saliba duels with Aleksandar Mitrovic

·3-min read
Arsenal vs Fulham: Intriguing heavyweight match-up key as William Saliba duels with Aleksandar Mitrovic

A week after Anthony Joshua fought Oleksandr Usyk, two different ­heavyweights will go head-to-head at Emirates Stadium.

Few would have predicted that ­William Saliba and Aleksandar Mitrovic would go into Saturday’s match between Arsenal and Fulham as two of the stars of the season so far.

Both have been among the best performers in the Premier League over the first three weeks and their match-up promises to be a physical affair.

Mitrovic showed during ­Fulham’s opening-day draw with Liverpool how he likes to dominate opposition defenders, particularly in the air. But he will have his work cut out against Saliba.

The 6ft 4in Frenchman is two inches taller than Mitrovic, and, despite being only 21, never shies away from a battle.

Arsenal have won their first three games to sit top as the only team with maximum points, and Saliba has been one of their stand-out performers.

When he returned to the club in the summer following a successful season on loan at Marseille, it was uncertain what role he would play under Mikel Arteta.

The Gunners already had a settled centre-back pairing in Ben White and Gabriel, while Arteta had stressed how rare it would be for a player of Saliba’s age to start week in, week out in the heart of a Premier League defence.

Saliba, however, impressed in ­pre-season, both in training and during matches, with those at Arsenal noticing how much he had developed since he joined them in 2019.

William Saliba has enjoyed a fine start to life in the Arsenal team (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
William Saliba has enjoyed a fine start to life in the Arsenal team (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Even the way he carries himself around the training ground has an air of authority and he has thrived in the middle of defence alongside Gabriel, with White moving out to right-back.

Saliba has already made himself a fans’ favourite at Arsenal. Supporters sung his name at Bournemouth last weekend to the tune of ‘Tequila’ by The Champs. Just when you had got the chant out of your head and the noise had died down at the Vitality ­Stadium, Saliba curled the ball into the top corner with his weaker foot to make it 3-0.

Everything he touches right now seems to be turning to gold, but he faces a tough test against Mitrovic.

Like Saliba, there were doubts before the season about how the Serbian would cope in the Premier League.

Aleksandar Mitrovic will be a big test of Saliba’s ability (Getty Images)
Aleksandar Mitrovic will be a big test of Saliba’s ability (Getty Images)

In the Championship last season, Mitrovic scored a record 43 goals, however his ability to do it in the top flight has always been questioned. He struggled the last time Fulham were in the Premier League, scoring just three goals as they were relegated.

Under an attacking manager like Marco Silva, the 27-year-old is dispelling those assertions now and three goals in as many games so far is a solid start. Had he not missed a penalty during Fulham’s 0-0 draw with Wolves, ­Mitrovic would be the Premier League’s joint top scorer.

“I don’t care about the critics,” said ­Mitrovic after he scored the winner as Fulham beat Brentford 3-2 last week. “I always know I belong here.

“I feel good. I am enjoying the Premier League and I am happy. Helping the teams and working hard is all I am looking for. The critics are always going to have different opinions. I don’t really care about it.”

Tomorrow’s match is another chance for Mitrovic to prove his critics wrong, but it is also an opportunity for Saliba to continue his impressive rise.