A lot has been said about William Saliba and the reasoning behind three consecutive loan spells, but the player himself has finally hinted at what led to the decisions made by manager Mikel Arteta.
Saliba signed for Arsenal in 2019 for a fee in the region of £27m but despite the sizeable figure and his obvious talent, he is still waiting to make a first-team appearance in the famous red and white. Joining the club at 18 years of age, it was initially clear as to why there was such an emphasis on loaning him out, with regular game time and development the main objectives.
However, despite showing clear signs of progress over the last three years, Saliba’s opportunities at Arsenal have remained slim. Many thought that this season would be the one where he got his chance. He had grown, become better and was more ready to take on the challenge of English football. Yet others thought differently, and the decision was made to loan him out once more to Marseille.
“I know that sometimes it’s difficult to explain or understand after the money that the club has spent trying to bring him in, to send him on loan. But a lot of things have happened to him,” said Arteta. “He’s a long-term player for us and we need to protect him as well. And giving him three or four games is not enough. He’s very happy to go there now. Hopefully, he can enjoy his football and be ready for us for next season.”
Although there was a sense of surprise and disappointment at the decision, the loan to Marseille has turned out to be a successful one which could prove beneficial for both Saliba and the Gunners. A number of standout performances have seen him pick up several Player of the Month awards, before eventually being named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year. He has also become a senior France international during his time at the Stade Velodrome.
His success this season has been great to see, and it perhaps signals a good call made by Arteta despite all of the noise surrounding the player’s situation. However, it seems regular game time and development weren’t the only reasons behind the Spaniard’s decision.
Speaking to Pro Direct Soccer France, Saliba said that the transition to Arsenal was “special” but admitted that his involvement with the U23 squad was not an enjoyable experience. “I didn’t play, I played with the under-23s. I still went to the Premier League and it’s an experience that taught me a lot, and I came out of it bigger and much stronger,” he said.
“It was shocking at first (being dropped into the academy). You say to yourself, ‘a £30million transfer all that, people were waiting for you to come’ and then you find yourself in the reserves against players your age. It shocked me at first, I didn’t even want to play. When they buy you for £30million and drop you in the reserves, it hurts.”
As much as I can understand Saliba’s frustration and disappointment at the lack of first-team opportunities, if you have the attitude of not wanting to play while a manager like Arteta watches on, it’s not going to go down well. As we all know, he has his non-negotiables, you either give 110% or you don’t give anything at all. The demands are set for each and every player to be committed to the cause.
It is of course important to remember that Saliba was and still is very young, the past couple of years would have been a big learning curve for him. As he said himself, it has made him bigger and stronger, which is great. Hopefully, when he returns to north London this summer, the message will be clear – you work hard for your place in the team.
There’s no doubt he has the quality and potential to become a crucial member of this Arsenal squad, I for one am so keen to see him get his chance. The return of European football and the introduction of five substitutions in the Premier League will only increase the likelihood of involvement, but now it’s about keeping his head down and showing the correct mentality.