Were our hopes too high for William Saliba? Arriving from France at the ripe age of 19, the French centre-back has been deemed not quite ready for first-team action at Arsenal. To say that this has surprised the Arsenal faithful would be something of an understatement.
Since Summer 2019, a narrative has been set inferring he’d arrive at Arsenal and immediately assume a role in our starting XI. In fairness to those who set this narrative, when a club spends £28 million on a player, this is a credible assumption to make.
Considering he was bought at the age of 18 with just 17 professional appearances under his belt, perhaps it was a little rash to suggest he’d slot in seamlessly. However, those close to him attested to them. Speaking to The Telegraph, Saliba’s at youth level, Jean-Luc Vannuchi, described him as a “mixture of the two styles” of Raphäel Varane and Virgil Van Dijk. And most importantly, Vannuchi believed Saliba was ready for Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta seems to think the Frenchman isn’t quite at the required level as of yet. He believes Saliba didn’t get the “year of transition” that he needed last season due to “a lot of injuries”, “Covid-19” and “the cancellation of the French league”. Thus, Arsenal considered sending him on loan again. This time away would have allowed Saliba to get what Arteta refers to as the “best transitional year to have the player we want in our future.”
These proposed plans have reportedly been torn up. According to reports, an agreement was reached with Saliba’s former club Saint-Etienne to send him back home for a year. Unfortunately, that one didn’t quite get over the line. Fulham and Leeds were also said to be interested in the 19-year-old.
After the international transfer window slammed shut, Mikel Arteta is believed to have contemplated taking advantage of the domestic window by sending Saliba on loan to a Championship club. Nevertheless, amid plenty of interest from clubs of England’s second tier, David Ornstein reported on Monday morning that Arsenal have decided to keep hold of their man for the time being.
The obvious conclusion to jump to would be to suggest that Saliba will be given game-time in the Europa League. However, there is a slight problem with this hypothesis. Saliba wasn’t registered in Arsenal’s Europa League squad. Whether this is because Arsenal believe Saliba isn’t ready or because Arsenal were convinced he was going on loan this season is unclear. As someone who thinks it’d be worth gambling on the youngster, it’d be fair to say I’m pretty gutted.
Does Saliba staying mean he will get minutes in the league? It’s unlikely. Saliba will continue to train with the first-team but it’d be far-fetched to suggest he’ll break into the starting XI. Given the fact he’s already been used in our under-23 team this campaign, I expect him to become a regular fixture in their games for the first couple of months of the season.
Unless of course the Frenchman progresses considerably before January, it’s foreseeable that he’ll be sent out on loan during the winter transfer window. Consequentially, we may not see Saliba play a competitive game for Arsenal until the 2021/22 season.
Can Saliba prove Mikel Arteta wrong? Let’s wait and see. I certainly hope he does.