Getty Images

William Saliba's sole priority on returning to Arsenal this summer was to establish himself with the Gunners, Mikel Arteta has revealed.

Saliba excelled on his debut for Arsenal last week, winning the man of the match award in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace more than three years after he first joined the club from Saint Etienne for £27million. The intervening years had largely been spent back on loan in his native France, and although the 21-year-old defender was never short of admirers at his parent club, there were those away from the corridors of power who questioned whether the center back might ever don on Arsenal red.

Certainly there were those at Marseille who hoped they might be able to extend an outstanding loan spell that saw Saliba named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year while winning his first caps for the France national team. OM wanted to bring him back to the Stade Velodrome and Saliba himself did not appear to entirely close the door on a potential return in the future. However, in talks with Arteta the youngster made clear that his priority was finally showing Arsenal what he could do.

"The reality is he was very convinced and determined to come here," said Arteta. "He had no other choice. He never suggested anything else. From the first conversations that we had with him you could see that he only had one intention, to come here and start to play football matches for Arsenal."

Arteta was impressed. "The first impression was really positive," the Arsenal manager said when asked whether he had seen the same composure and confidence that Saliba displayed at Selhurst Park on the Frenchman's return to preseason training. "His body language, his presence and the confidence that he was acting with, he was very mature."

Want more soccer? Paramount+ is the only place to watch every minute of every Serie A match this season, not to mention select games in Italian. Sign up now with offer code ITALY to get a special one month free trial. A subscription also gives you access to other sports content including every UEFA Champions League and Europa League match, the NFL on CBS, and countless movies and shows. Get it all free for one month with promo code ITALY.

For all that Saliba did radiate maturity on his first Premier League start there will inevitably be difficult moments in the games to come, perhaps beginning on Saturday when he is expected to line up against a man who has embarrassed many an Arsenal defender in years gone by, Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy. The Bondy-born center back may have played enough games (121 for club and country) at a tender age to develop something of an aura, but mistakes will surely come for Saliba, as they do for any center back.

"Mistakes are a part of football at 21 and 35, they're going to happen," said Arteta. "The mistakes that we want to happen are, as much as possible, on the training pitch. And if they're going to happen on the pitch, that they don't cost you goals. That's the objective. Inevitably things will happen.

"I always say, especially with young players and the development portfolio that we have in our squad, you have to pay a bill. That bill is that at some stage they're going to make mistakes, they're going to experience things for the first time, and they have to go through that process."

The spotlight will surely shine brightly on Saliba, particularly from outside the club. In his absence he took on something of a mythic status among some Arsenal supporters, the prince that was promised to carry them out of their defensive ruin. The hype in north London can be unlike any other, but it does not take much for fans to turn; the journey from player of the month to expensive, underwhelming appendage to the first team has been extremely quick for the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Torreira in years gone by.

In such circumstances Arteta might be minded to at least attempt to quell the hype around his bright young thing. He seems to know he'd be fighting a losing battle. "Positive expectations are created when you see something special. It's obvious. They've seen that. They see the talent. 

"What I would say is instead of [trying to quell expectations we have to] just protect the player. Let's protect him, make sure he has the right environment to fulfil his potential. When things don't go that well we are as good as we are when things are going well."