After a successful loan spell with Marseille, William Saliba returns to Arsenal, but where does the 21-year-old fit with the north London club?
There have been fewer players to divide the Arsenal fanbase quite like William Saliba. The French defender was bought for nearly £30 million in 2019 among huge fanfare. Several loan spells with French clubs Saint- Etienne, Nice, and Marseille have seen the defender’s stock continue to rise.
After a disappointing start to his Gunners career (even without playing a game), he was sent out on loan several times. Still, his season with Marseille has proven that he is ready to fight for a spot in the starting XI and potentially make one his own.
Coming back to Arsenal with a Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year trophy and a spot in the Ligue 1 Team of the Year, the 21-year-old is ready to take over.
Arsenal plan for William Saliba has not changed: he's considered an important player for present and future, both Arteta and Edu want him as part of the team for next season. ⚪️🔴 #AFC— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) May 26, 2022
There will be conversation on potential new contract soon, up to Saliba too.
But one small question remains, where exactly does he fit in Mikel Arteta’s plans? Part of every matchday squad as a bare minimum.
The Gunners boss stated earlier in the week that the sole reason for his loan move to Marseille was due to the lack of games the club was playing this season. With no European football at all and one game a week at a time, the opportunity to play consistently wasn’t there. It will be in 2022/23.
Depending on who you ask, Saliba could slot straight into the starting XI at the expense of either Gabriel or Benjamin White. Given Arteta’s fondness for both, that is unlikely. But he should be the third-choice centre-half (at least) without a second thought, even closely nudging into a starting spot.
Could Arteta switch to a back three with two wing-backs to allow Saliba to partner White and Gabriel? Possibly as the Spaniard has done it in the past.
UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year 🏆— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 15, 2022
William Saliba 💫
Congratulations, Wilo 👏 pic.twitter.com/sh6h61GQ6k
Rob Holding has been a good club servant, but Saliba is undoubtedly the superior and more promising defender. With the Gunners playing in the Europa League next season and the league and cup competitions, there will be countless opportunities for the young defender to show what he has got.
His passing range, tackling, and marshalling of the defence were standout points of his time with Marseille, and he can bring those attributes to Arsenal.
This feels like the time for Saliba to take his Arsenal career by the horns and make the best of it. The talent is there; the mentality is there, and he is ready.
What is concerning is his want to return to the Champions League with Marseille next season, despite Arteta publicly stating he wants the defender in his squad next season.
It would be one of the worst things to happen for the club to let this potentially generational talent slip through their fingers.
Is he a starter for Arsenal? His efforts for Marseille suggest so, but will he be given a chance? He nearly has to, but we know that Arteta is not one for bowing down to what players want.
This season could finally be the one where we see William Saliba in an Arsenal shirt. When we do, one can only imagine the kind of reception he will get from the Gunners faithful.