It is no secret that Arsenal’s defense is in shambles and has been for quite some time. After two straight seasons that saw the Gunners’ defense ship 51 goals (their most in the Premier League era), it would be a gross understatement to say that the back line needs help. Arsenal’s collection of first team defenders swings drastically between “battle-tested-but-aging” and “promising-but-untested”, with Shkodran Mustafi pinwheeling somewhere in the “bad-and-getting-worse” category.
That being said, it seems as though Arsenal had made at least one stride toward reinforcing their leaky back line after the Gunners had been heavily linked to William Saliba, the 18 year old center back from Saint-Étienne of France’s Ligue 1. After Tottenham Hotspur started kicking the defender’s tires, Arsenal have reportedly agreed to terms with the French U20 international.
William #Saliba to Arsenal is essentially complete. #Arsenal and ASSE have reached an agreement of around €30M. Whilst both clubs are still discussing transfer bonuses, the player has already agreed with Arsenal. #RMCsport— Mohamed Bouhafsi (@mohamedbouhafsi) July 8, 2019
“This is good news!” you might say, and you would be right. A young, highly-rated center back is exactly what the Gunners need in order to rebuild around a younger roster, which has seemed to be the approach by Unai Emery and his staff so far this offseason. While Arsenal have young defenders such as Dinos Mavropanos and Rob Holding on roster, one has been injured too long to see consistent match time, and the other is coming off of a season-ending knee injury. Saliba, who featured for Saint-Étienne in 16 of their 38 matches, has seen his star rise recently, and would certainly provide Arsenal with much-needed depth.
While terms have been agreed to, Arsenal are reportedly angling for a sign-and-loan deal, loaning Saliba back to Saint-Étienne for the upcoming season before he officially joins Arsenal for the 20-21 Premier League season.
“This is bad news!” you might say, and you’d be sort of right. Arsenal’s defense is in a bad way right now, especially at center back, and a signing that won’t even play for Arsenal this season isn’t going to improve anything. While young center backs Mavropanos, Holding, and oft-loaned defender Callum Chambers should be back for the season, the fact remains that Arsenal need quality, and they need it now.
Of Arsenal’s seasoned defenders, Sokratis has stated before that he only intends on staying at Arsenal for two seasons, which would make this his last. The Gunners have reportedly been trying to sell Koscielny, and no one wants anything to do with Mustafi, which surprises no one. So the news that Arsenal are buying a defender with the intention of immediately loaning him is understandably frustrating and another piece of kindling on the “Arsenal have no clue what they are doing” bonfire that has been raging for the past several seasons.
The key to this whole agreement, though, is that it allows Arsenal to pay a small fee up front without committing to the full transfer fee until next season, meaning Arsenal will still have a majority of their £40m transfer budget left to work with, which is important considering the pressing needs for the defense, central midfield, and wing positions. With links to Celtic’s Kieran Tierney and Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha, Arsenal will need as much funding as they can spare.
And let us also not forget - Saliba is 18! He’s still developing as a soccer player, and the leap from Ligue 1 to the Premier League at 18 is still one that takes time to adapt to, even for more veteran players. Another year of consistent play will only make him a more valuable addition to the club, and also allow the youth currently on Arsenal’s first team roster more opportunities for first team action.
So are Arsenal being prudent in their future-first approach, or are they continuing down their path of nonsensical transfer business? Have your say in the comments.