Arsenal defender William Saliba is poised to make his debut against Fulham in the opening game of the Premier League season and the 19-year-old revealed he has a long relationship with the Gunners.

The French centre-back, signed for the club last summer in a deal worth £27 million but immediately loaned back to Saint-Etienne for another season, could make his Gunners bow at Craven Cottage after David Luiz sustained a neck injury.

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BT Sport customers can watch Saliba’s Arsenal take on Fulham in the first match of the 2020/21 Premier League season from 11.30am on Saturday 12 September on BT Sport 1 HD, BT Sport Ultimate and online.

Gunners fans have been excited at the prospect of the teenage sensation lining up in defence ever since he put pen to paper on a long term deal last July and it looks like the wait may finally be over.

Speaking exclusively to BT Sport ahead of the season’s curtain raiser, Saliba told Reshmin Chowdhury that he used to watch Arsenal on TV as a youngster in France. “I watched some Arsenal games when I was little. It was a great team,” he said.

He said joining Arsenal was a realisation of a dream he had since he was little when he idolised legendary striker Thierry Henry.

“Yes [it’s a dream to join Arsenal] because it’s a very big club. When I was little I bought an Arsenal jersey with Thierry Henry [printed on the back]. Some years after, I’m wearing the Arsenal jersey. I’m so proud.”

The club’s fabled French connection, spearheaded by iconic manager Arsene Wenger who presided over a 22-year spell as boss in north London, won the club plaudits all over the world but none more so than in his homeland when Saliba was growing up.

The defender is full of admiration for Wenger, who reportedly identified him as a transfer target prior to his departure. “He was training the team before I was born! I have a lot of respect for him,” he said.

The teenage sensation rose through the ranks at Saint-Etienne, making 16 appearances in the 2018/19 season, enough to persuade Arsenal to part with nearly £30 million for his services.

He re-joined his boyhood club on loan for the beginning of the 2019/20 season under manager former Leicester boss Claude Puel, playing 12 more times before being handed the number 4 shirt on his arrival at Arsenal.

The talented youngster will have little time to adapt to life in the Premier League and he has a big job ahead of him.

Arsenal conceded 48 goals in the league last season, only two clubs in the top 10 leaked more (Chelsea and Burnley). The club have become known in recent years for being brittle in defence.

But there has been a sense of optimism among the Emirates Stadium faithful over the summer with the arrival of Saliba and fellow central defender Gabriel.

The number of Premier League goals conceded by Arsenal last season

The 22-year-old left-footed centre back also joined from Ligue 1 and the pair have gone toe-to-toe in the French top flight before they came to England.

“I’ve already played against him in France and I have a friend who knows him,” said Saliba.

“I’ve spoken to him since he’s come here, I’m very excited. We are young so we have to learn from defenders like David Luiz and the others.”

While Gabriel might have to wait to make his Arsenal debut, the duo are seen as the future of Arsenal’s defence.

With 26 goals and two assists last season, Aleksandar Mitrovic could prove a real handful for Saliba and co. as a Premier League introduction.

Regardless of whether or not he’s is thrown in against Fulham, Saliba is brimming with enthusiasm for the next stage of his career.

“I’m very, very excited. It’s the next step for me because I was in France, now in England, the best league in the world. I’m very excited to play for Arsenal.”