William Saliba was named Ligue Un Young Player of the Year and to the Ligue Un team of the year. The Arsenal centerback has spent the season on loan at Marseille, leading the French side in minutes played and helping them to a spot in next year’s Champions League. Saliba joined the Gunners in July 2019 but was loaned back to St. Etienne. He spent the first half of last season with Arsenal but did not make a senior appearance before being loaned to Nice in January 2021.
UNFP Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 15, 2022
Congratulations, Wilo pic.twitter.com/sh6h61GQ6k
Saliba’s relationship with Arsenal and Mikel Arteta has been rocky, to say the least. To boil it down (at least in my estimation), there was a discrepancy between how Saliba viewed his readiness for first-team action and how Arteta saw things. That’s fine. Players want to play. Managers usually want to bring young players along slowly and not expose them, especially defenders.
Marseille would like to retain Saliba’s services next season. If they do, it won’t be on a loan. He will either be in North London or sold, and there are reports that he is part of Mikel Arteta’s plans for next season. My gut tells me he’ll be at Arsenal. The Gunners have already secured European football next season. There will be more matches on the schedule and more rotation needed to keep players healthy and fresh.
Arsenal are getting a front row ticket to what happens when you don’t have enough centerbacks (at the worst possible time). To compete in multiple competitions, you need four, first-team caliber centerbacks. Arsenal have Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White, who have developed a fantastic partnership this season, and Rob Holding. Holding is a fine rotational option, but ideally he’s the fourth or fifth CB on your roster, not the third. William Saliba walks into a rotation with White and Gabriel no question — he’s as good as they are.
It’s a good “problem” for Arsenal to have, assuming that all three players (or whichever isn’t in the first XI) are comfortable not being a starter. And again, I think there is too much riding on squad depth for Mikel Arteta not to smooth things over with Saliba, if there even is anything remaining that needs smoothing. Arsenal will be better with William Saliba on the roster. He’s young and talented. He fits with the rebuilding project. And he’s homegrown. That’s way too much value not to keep around.