There’s yet another chapter in the William Saliba saga. He recently told local newspaper La Provence that he pushed hard for his loan move to Ligue Un, against Arsenal’s advice that he should be loaned to a club in England.
Said Saliba, as translated by Goal.com:
I’m the one who chose Marseille. Arsenal preferred that I got to England, but I knew that here was the right choice, I pushed and pushed for it. Marseille is one of the best clubs in France, with a lot of fervor in the city and the country. You need to sweat for the shirt when you’re here.
He also said he expects that the atmosphere in Marseille, fan expectations, and pressure to perform will help his development.
Parse it out however you will. I have two significant takeaways:
- Concern about Arsenal and Saliba continuing not to be on the same page.
- Reassurance that he still may have a place at the club.
This isn’t the first time that Saliba and Arteta seemingly haven’t seen eye-to-eye. Last season, Saliba wanted a chance with the first team / felt he wasn’t given enough opportunity to prove himself. Mikel Arteta did not think he was ready. Now, Arsenal wanted him to go on loan in one place, he wanted to go to another.
I don’t have much of a take on the loan destination disagreement. A loan to a Premier League side (although the quotes just say “England” so that could mean the Championship) would have meant a higher level of competition, week-in, week-out. That doesn’t necessarily mean it would be best for Saliba’s development, however.
It’s been a tough few years for him. He has the high expectations of a big money transfer to Arsenal. He suffered and recovered from a significant injury and another smaller, niggling one. His mother died. COVID happened and disrupted the world. He’s 20 years old, probably doesn’t really feel at home in London yet and might want the comfort, ease, and familiarity of living in his home country where he speaks the language.
N.B.: I’m completely spitballing here and may be totally off-base. But I think we have to give some credence to his idea of what is best for him right now and what kind of environment might best enable him to thrive as a footballer and as a human.
At some point, if Arsenal do see Saliba as part of their future plans, they’re going to have to clear the air and get on the same page. But let’s put that aside for now.
Some had concluded based on what happened last fall and with another loan to a French club that Mikel Arteta doesn’t rate Saliba or see him as part of the long term future at the club. I don’t think that’s the case. For starters, Arteta has consistently said that Saliba needs to develop but that he’s part of the plan long-term.
That Saliba pushed for the move puts to bed the “he’s no good, Arsenal could only loan him to that farmers league” talk. The club wanted him in England and (I’d expect) had possible loans lined up for him. I seem to remember a rumor from last year connecting him with a Newcastle loan (or another Premier League squad of that ilk) last season that ultimately didn’t pan out. Bottom line: there is demand for him in places other than France.
While the recent addition of Ben White, who plays basically the same position, is conflicting evidence at best, clubs do need to have multiple good players at the same position, especially centerback. I can easily see a world where in a year or two, Arsenal’s CBs are Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes, William Saliba, and [someone - Holding, Mari, new name], especially if they’re back in Europe and have more matches to play each season.
And if it doesn’t work out long-term for Saliba at Arsenal, it might be to the club’s benefit that he’s showcasing his skills in Ligue Un and impressing the clubs, coaches, and executives in the league where he’d almost certainly wind up being sold.