William Saliba’s exclusion from the Europa League squad has left Mikel Arteta feeling somewhat regretful. In part because he could really use a fit player for tomorrow night’s home tie against Dundalk, and also because a setback to Pablo Mari came after the squad was finalised, leaving the young Frenchman sidelined.
The 19 year old is available for the Premier League, but has been eased very slowly into action since his arrival from Saint-Etienne in the summer.
He has played some U23 games, but has yet to make his full debut, with Arteta keen to keep expectations over him in check. He had injury problems last season, and with the French league ending in March, had not played a lot of football. All of which have contributed to him being much less involved that fans had imagined in the early stages of his Arsenal career.
The boss spoke about Saliba ahead of the Dundalk game, as with David Luiz absent, he only has two of his eight central defenders available (Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi) with Mari, Calum Chambers, and Rob Holding all injured, while Sokratis, like Saliba, is ineligible.
“I feel really bad about William Saliba because we decided that because we have so many we decided to leave him out of the squad,” said Arteta.
“It was really hurtful for me to do. I was hoping that Pablo Mari would be back in two weeks but he had a setback and then we don’t have Pablo and we don’t have William who is fit and available to play.
“When you make those decisions you can’t always think of every possible outcome.”
Continuing on his progress, and the fact he stayed at the club this season after almost ending up back with his former club on loan again, Arteta sounded quite positive.
“He is in a much better place, he’s feeling more confident around the place,” he said.
“His language is improving, he’s starting to understand much better what we’re doing to do physically.
“He’s played a few games with the under-23s as well, which he needed because he hadn’t played any football in the last seven or eight months.
“I think things are progressively getting better and better.”
There’s no question the £28m price-tag has heightened expectations, but let’s remember he’s a 19 year old centre-half who still has a lot to learn at that age. Time is on his side, so some patience is required, and it’s far better to be cautious about using him rather than throwing him in and damaging his confidence at this early stage of his Arsenal career.