It’s amazing how much can change in a year.
When William Saliba was signed by Arsenal from Ligue 1 side Saint-Etienne in the summer of 2019, it looked like Arsenal had landed their new “next big defender” signing. Fans were buzzing about the teenager’s potential. At 18, he was already a stalwart in the French club’s defense and, sporting a formidable frame, looked every bit the part of the modern day defender mold.
And yet, barely one year later, there is an ominous cloud hovering over his Arsenal career, as manager Mikel Arteta, speaking yesterday ahead of Arsenal’s Thursday night Europa League clash with FK Molde, expressed his frustration over the defender’s situation and his future with the club.
Mikel Arteta says William Saliba could leave Arsenal in January and admits he's as 'fed up' as the defender about his current situation.— The Transfer Exchange Show (@TheTransferEx) November 4, 2020
Saliba is unhappy with his lack of playing time and boss Arteta admits he tried to loan the defender to help with his transition. [Goal] #AFC pic.twitter.com/UXyWoVlvlD
When Arteta took over for Unai Emery last season, he inherited a broken squad in need of repair and a defense in utter shambles. He also inherited Emery’s final loan class, which included Saliba, who was promptly sent back on loan to St. Etienne for the 2019-2020 season. While a smart move in principle, it left Arteta with little opportunity to work with the defender ahead of his first full season as Arsenal manager.
What has transpired since has not gone as many imagined. The signing of Gabriel Magalhaes in the summer window has proven to be perhaps one of the most significant early moves of Arteta’s tenure, as the brilliant Brazilian has been a stalwart in an Arsenal defense that has conceded the least goals by any club this far into the season. However, the partnership of Gabriel and Saliba that fans anticipated has failed to materialize, as Arteta has leaned on the likes of veterans David Luiz and Rob Holding to partner with Gabriel while relegating Saliba to the U-23 squad for matches.
What became apparent during the beginning of the season was that Arteta did not view Saliba as a Premier League-ready defender. Failed attempts at loaning Saliba back to St. Etienne and to a Championship side left Arteta and Saliba both frustrated, as the player wants game time while the manager wants him to continue to mature. Saliba has seen no PL call-ups in the first two months of the season, and now it would appear that a new loan spell could be on the horizon in January.
While we know only what is told to us by Arteta and the media, it was quite telling when Saliba was left out of Arsenal’s Europa League roster, unable to break in ahead of the likes of Sead Kolasinac, a defender who is a defensive liability. The injuries to the defense have left Arteta with scarce rotation options, yet Saliba has continued to be left off of the team sheet.
It is certainly far too early to write off Saliba’s Arsenal career, but reading the tea leaves, it looks as though his path to the first team will not be the swift and direct one we all had hoped for.