When William Saliba arrived at Arsenal in 2020 aged 19 – a year on from signing before re-joining to boyhood club Saint-Etienne on a season-long loan – his return coincided with his centre-back partner Wesley Fofana’s switch to Leicester City.
Arsenal fought off competition from North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur for Saliba’s signature, the higher rated of the two, and anticipation began to build surrounding his potential impact.
Fast forward to present day, one-half of the pair has 35 Premier League appearances under his belt while the other is yet to make their bow in the English top-flight. If you hadn’t worked it out already, the latter is Saliba.
After joining up with the Gunners ahead of the 2020/21 season, the France international was handed the number four squad number only for the opportunities afforded to him to fall outside of the first eleven.
Considering his age at the time, a lack of playing time in the ‘important’ games is understandable but a decision to leave him out of Arsenal’s Europa League selection all but ended his hopes of making an impact.
Manager Mikel Arteta has since expressed his regret at the decision which thwarted Saliba’s introductory campaign.
“I feel really bad for William Saliba,” Arteta said. “Because we had so many central defenders, we decided to leave him out of the squad which was really hurtful for me to do.
“I was hoping that Pablo would be back in two weeks but he had a setback and then we don’t have Pablo and we don’t have William when he’s fit and available to play.
“But when you make those decisions, you can’t always think about every possible outcome.”
Via: Sky Sports
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Arsenal’s William Saliba back on track after loan spells
With potential chances to feature at the Emirates Stadium appearing bleak, William Saliba returned to Ligue 1 on a six-month loan deal to OSG Nice.
His search for playing time proved fruitful as he featured in every minute of his 20 appearances in the French first division and even won Nice’s Player of the Month in his first month.
Upon returning to England after the conclusion of the 2020/21 season, many expected Saliba to stake a claim for a place in Arteta’s plans, or be given the opportunity to do so at least.
No such eventuality transpired, however, as he returned to his homeland this time with Marseille.
Saliba further stated his case in the 2021/22 campaign – if not in the red of Arsenal – with his best season to date as he helped now departed manager Jorge Sampaoli’s men to a second-place finish and a semi-final in the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League.
After making 36 appearances in Ligue 1, garnering praise for the consistency of his performances, he was named the league’s Young Player of the Year before being featured in the Team of the Year.
Has William Saliba finally done enough to impress Mikel Arteta?
Expectedly, after such a successful spell in the South of France, Marseille have remained hopeful of a reunion with Saliba but on a permanent basis.
Although, the consistent message from parent club Arsenal is that they foresee his future being in North London – in what capacity that may be in is up for debate.
Ben White and Gabriel Magalhaes formed a resolute partnership last season and Mikel Arteta will no doubt look to retain stability by sticking with them in the fast-approaching 2022/23 season.
Following his coming of age season with Marseille, a peripheral role is of no interest to Saliba and reports suggest he has made this known to his manager.
The Independent report that the player will ask for a permanent transfer if he isn’t offered assurances over a starting spot next season. Within the same report, it is claimed that the 21-year-old has been told he is in contention for France’s World Cup squad subject to regular playing time.
Saliba’s ball-playing profile suits Arteta’s style of play but considering the two candidates ahead of him and their age, a guaranteed place in his first eleven looks unlikely.
Gabriel has attracted interest from Juventus, but a transfer away from Arsenal just two seasons after signing and considering target Lisandro Martinez has joined Manchester United would be a surprise.
From Saliba’s perspective, his desire to continue his development is understandable and a season sat from the side lines could be costly in the long run.