“Rio and Vida are the first-choice central defenders, but I have to be ready if called upon,” the 21-year-old said. “I’ve been watching on from the sidelines and learning from both of them in training.”
Against Valencia on Tuesday evening, the former Fulham and Maidstone United man was introduced on 50 minutes after Ferdinand felt his hamstring tighten and was removed from action as a precaution. Smalling slotted almost seamlessly into the Reds back four and helped keep Valencia’s forwards quiet until the final whistle.
It was his fifth Champions League appearance this season, a figure that goes some way to illustrating how well he’s taken to life at Old Trafford since arriving in the summer.
“I’m really happy with the way [my United career] has gone so far,” Smalling said. “The manager has shown faith in me and given me, and a lot of the other younger lads, a chance.
“This is going to be a hectic time. There are a lot of games to be played over Christmas so the manager will want to use his whole squad.”
And even though Ferdinand and Vidic will almost certainly get the nod against Arsenal, Smalling has been doing his homework on the current Barclays Premier League leaders.
“Samir Nasri has definitely shown that [he’s one of the best players in the league]. He’s a key player we will have to watch out for. He is so comfortable on the ball. I admire him greatly but you cannot just single one player out when you’re talking about Arsenal.