William Saliba’s Arsenal career is poised to finally get underway next season after Mikel Arteta stated the defender “has to come back” following a successful loan spell with Marseille.
It’s coming up to three years since the Frenchman joined the Gunners for a reported £27m fee. However, somewhat surprisingly, he’s yet to make a first-team appearance for the club having been loaned out to Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille in successive seasons to gain more experience.
The latest loan spell was Saliba’s strongest. He helped Marseille qualify for the Champions League, reach the semi-final of the Europa Conference League and his form earned him a first call-up to the senior France squad and he’s very much in contention for a World Cup place provided he stays fit.
If the Ligue 1 outfit’s president Pablo Longoria gets his way then 20-year-old would be returning to the Stade Velodrome in the summer transfer window, but Arteta has communicated his decision and all signs are pointing towards Saliba getting a chance at Arsenal next season.
“He has to come back,” Arteta told RMC Sport. “He has the experience and has been in the necessary environment in order to be competitive with us. If he had stayed with us this year, where we had one Premier League game every week, with Ben White and Gabriel, he wouldn’t have had half the playing time he had with Marseille, that’s for sure.
“For his growth and what he can do next season, that wouldn’t have been good. William wasn’t with us because he wouldn’t have had the playing time to gain experience. That’s it, there’s nothing else.”
In the scenario that Saliba is part of Arteta’s plans for next season, how would his return affect the north London outfit if they were to sign the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Serge Gnabry and Youri Tielemans in the transfer window, whilst adhering to the Premier League rules at the same time?
Well, the Gunners and the other 19 Premier League teams will be permitted to name a 25-man squad after the summer transfer window closes at the beginning of September. From which no more than 17 overseas players can be named with the remaining eight places available to homegrown members of the squad.
To be considered home-grown, players need to have been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Welsh FA for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).
Even though Saliba could soon be considered a homegrown player for Arsenal, he doesn’t have to be named in the 25-man squad next season. Instead, he can be registered in the Under-21 players lost who are eligible throughout a season. This is because, as per Premier League rules: “An Under 21 player is defined as one who is under the age of 21 on 1st January in the year in which the season commences.
For next season the rule will be: “Under-21 players are eligible over and above the limit of 25 players per squad. For the 2022/23 campaign, Under-21 players will have been born on or after 1 January 2001.” So as Saliba was born on 24 March 2001 he wouldn’t have to be registered by Arsenal in the 25-man Premier League squad but can still play for the club as he would be registered as an Under-21 player instead and there’s no limit for that list.
Amid links to Gabriel Jesus, Victor Osimhen and Tielemans, Saliba’s expected involvement next season won’t impact Arsenal’s plans, if they have any, to sign at least one of the trio in the transfer window as the Frenchman’s likely return will not cause any registration issues.