William Saliba may have signalled his intention for next season, but there’s still a lot of work for Arsenal to do if they want to avoid finding themselves in an all-too-familiar position come next summer.
The Frenchman – who scooped the 2021/22 Ligue 1 Young Player of the Season award as well as being named in Ligue 1’s Team of the Season alongside the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Marquinhos and Aurelien Tchouameni during a successful loan spell with Marseille – has revealed that he’s heading back to his parent club to fight for his place in Mikel Arteta’s strongest line-up.
“I belong to Arsenal. I still have two years left,” Saliba said in an interview with French television programme Telefoot on Sunday morning. “I will be back with Arsenal. I have played zero matches, and I still want to show them my true face and have the chance to play for these fans and this great club.”
Just as important as Saliba confirming his return to Arsenal is the mention that only two years are remaining on his contract, which according to the club’s head of football Raul Sanllehi, is hardly the ideal position to be in considering what has happened with the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil over the past decade.
“At the end of the day, the real essence of the problem was that we had reached the last year of the contract,” Sanllehi told Arsenal’s official YouTube channel in May 2019 when discussing Ramsey’s move to Juventus. “One of our priorities is not to get to the last year of contract and this (Ramsey’s situation) is the reason why. The only way to get to the end of contract is when you’re ready to release that player at the end.
“If you really want to keep that player you need to renew him before getting to the last year of contract because you’re putting yourself in a very weak position – we cannot get to the last year of the contract and if we cannot get a renewal before that, then we may have to sell.”
After the season Saliba has just had, the idea of selling him within the next two months would in many ways represent a worst-case transfer window for Arsenal. Although, the counter-argument is that unless he signs a new deal this summer the club risk losing him for a cut-price fee in 12 months’ time – or worst yet for free in 2024.
With Arteta, technical director Edu and director of football operations Richard Garlick, whose main role entails negotiating contracts with both existing and new players, now at the helm there’s a new regime at Arsenal but Sanllehi’s words should certainly serve as a timely warning, especially when it comes to Saliba’s future.
To the Gunners’ credit, football.london have previously reported that the plan was to open preliminary talks regarding a new deal towards the end of the Frenchman’s loan spell with Marseille. How those talks went – or if they have even taken place yet – hasn’t been revealed but as Saliba has the potential to be a key player for the club in years to come, that is a further incentive for Arsenal to finalise his new contract and secure his long-term future.
Arteta wants to give Saliba a chance next season, the player himself intends on seizing that opportunity, so the pieces in the puzzle are finally coming together three years on from the defender’s arrival in north London. Yet until a new contract is finalised, there could still be another twist to this saga.