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Arsenal's title challenge folded when William Saliba suffered an injury last season… now the French star is determined to make up for lost time as he fires a clear warning to Manchester City and Liverpool

He’s arguably the difference between winning a league title and second place.

He’s certainly one of the world’s best defenders.

Yet, William Saliba, at just 22, is already looking to make up for lost time.

When he sustained a back injury on March 16 in the Europa League last-16 second leg against Sporting Lisbon, Arsenal were top of the Premier League by five points.

The Gunners’ next 11 games without him resulted in three consecutive draws and three losses, amid five victories. Manchester City had wrested the league away from their grasp.

William Saliba points to the Arsenal badge amid celebrations after Tuesday's win at Luton

William Saliba points to the Arsenal badge amid celebrations after Tuesday’s win at Luton

The French defender was right behind Declan Rice after his dramatic stoppage time winner

The French defender was right behind Declan Rice after his dramatic stoppage time winner

Saliba says Arsenal are targeting success in the Premier League and Champions League

Saliba says Arsenal are targeting success in the Premier League and Champions League

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The north London club’s performances had dropped off a cliff, but it was the Frenchman’s injury that proved a catalyst for this.

His plans this time around are a menacing warning for their rivals in the north, which include Liverpool.

‘We have the experience of last season, of course we are better,’ says Saliba, speaking from an event at The Arsenal Hub which celebrated the club’s year-round involvement within the local community.

‘Maybe we can go one better. It’s early to say that, but we want to win every game.

‘It will be tighter this year because everyone is so close at the top and I think it will be harder to win it than last season. But we are ready for that.

‘(Success this season is) to win the Premier League and to go as far as possible in the Champions League. It’s a real target because we play to win everything. We don’t play just to be there to make up the numbers. We want to make it.

‘In this month, in December, we play a lot of good teams, especially this Saturday so we have to stay focused because this season is still long and we have a lot of games to play.’

The back injury Saliba suffered against Sporting Lisbon proved a defining moment for Arsenal

The back injury Saliba suffered against Sporting Lisbon proved a defining moment for Arsenal

Gunners coach Mikel Arteta is hoping Saliba can remain fit until the end of the campaign

Gunners coach Mikel Arteta is hoping Saliba can remain fit until the end of the campaign

The centre-back has flourished under Mikel Arteta, his manager having made him a cornerstone of the team.

Across their 23 games so far this campaign, Saliba has played 1,890 minutes — the most of any squad player. That trust is mutual.

‘I know he (Arteta) trusts me, it makes it easy to play well,’ he says. ‘I feel a lot of confidence from him and he teaches, he gives us things to develop and if I’m good today, then it’s because of him and the staff.

‘He’s demanding but he’s high level so you have to be demanding of your players and it’s good for us to have a coach like this. He has a passion, he loves his work.’

It has not always been plain sailing. After Saliba arrived in July 2019, he had to contend with multiple loan spells, and was left out of the club’s competitive squads for the 2020–21 season which briefly left him only able to play for the Arsenal Under 23s.

He made his Premier League debut on August 5 last year and has been a mainstay ever since.

Saliba celebrates after netting against Burnley last month, proving his threat in the other box

Saliba celebrates after netting against Burnley last month, proving his threat in the other box

Saliba goes head-to-head with Chelsea's Mykhailo Mudryk during October's 2-2 draw

Saliba goes head-to-head with Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk during October’s 2-2 draw

He explains: ‘My first experience wasn’t so good but you know in your life you don’t always have good experiences. Sometimes you have to learn from some bad experiences and that’s why I learned and came back stronger. And that’s it.

‘I have played a lot of games on loan and then I was back last season, and now I am so happy to be in this team and play every game.’

Arsenal go to Aston Villa this Saturday, their opposition sitting in third place after brushing aside Manchester City 1-0 on Wednesday night.

Villa remain unbeaten at home since a 4-2 defeat in February 2023, the Gunners the last team to beat them in their own backyard.

Saliba is not surprised by their progress under ex-Arsenal boss Unai Emery.

‘They’re a good team, they have a good coach as well and I’m not surprised they are in such a good position because they finished so well last season,’ he says.

‘They are so good. I think it will be one of our hardest games, it will be tough, we know it won’t be easy to play there.’

Saliba was at The Arsenal Hub to support North London United this week

Saliba was at The Arsenal Hub to support North London United this week

Away from the pitch, the defender is involved with North London United, an initiative aimed at engaging young people with Down’s Syndrome.

He adds: ‘It’s important because we’ve all been younger people so it’s good to be with these kids. We enjoy it, we make them happy and so we are happy as well.

‘I didn’t have the chance to meet professional footballers when I was growing up but now I’m a professional footballer. If I can make happy some younger kids then I will do it without hesitation.

‘He (Arteta) really wants this but he doesn’t need to push us because we all want to do these things and everyone in the club, all the staff, we support these things in the community.’

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

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