Mikel Arteta says William Saliba was sent out on loan to get regular game time which he believes is essential for the player’s development.
The France under-21 international drew a line under a very frustrating six months when he signed on loan for Ligue 1 side Nice on Monday and was immediately handed his first start for his new club on Wednesday as they lost 2-0 to Brest.
Saliba, 19, had been expected to challenge for a place in Arsenal’s starting lineup when he was recalled to London from Saint-Etienne in the summer but it soon became apparent he wasn’t in the boss’ plans.
After failing to arrange a second loan spell with his former club – paperwork for the proposed move wasn’t completed before the summer transfer deadline – the decision was taken to leave the teenager out of Arsenal’s first team squads for both the Europa League and Premier League competitions. Having paid £27 million for Saliba in 2018, it certainly raised a few eyebrows.
Ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Newcastle United, Arteta was asked about the club’s thinking.
“We signed a big project that we had some issues with,” he said. “He hasn’t played enough football in the last 18 months. At that age and the development phase that he’s in, that’s crucial.
“I’ve always been very conscious that when he came back [to London] he hadn’t done the step he needed to do before joining us.
“To start a relationship with a new manager, a new club, new teammates when he’s not having any game time, is really difficult and it’s damaging for his future.
“I want to protect the player that we signed and the future that we have alongside him. The best way to do that is to give him minutes and play him.
“He’s been really good. It’s been difficult months for him to cope with that situation but I see the development that he’s made, the progression that he’s shown over the months and now he’s ready to compete.
“He’s going to a really strong league, a league he knows really well, one he’s experienced and he needs to play as many games as possible to be ready for us next season.”
There have been some suggestions that Nice have an option to extend Saliba’s loan for an additional year should they so wish, but Arteta made clear that Saliba is in his plans for next season.
“He will come back for pre-season and will be with us. Hopefully, he’ll come back having played a number of games and his performance is raising and his development progressing in the right way.
“That’s why we made that decision. I know sometimes it’s difficult to explain or understand after the money the club has spent trying to bring him in only to send him on loan, but a lot of things have happened to him.
“He’s a long-term player for us and we need to protect him. Giving him three or four games is not enough. He needs much more than that. What happened in the last 18 months, he’s been through some personal problems that we have to try to help him with and now he needs to play, play and play and to enjoy his profession as well.
“In order to do that, we found the right club with him. He’s very happy to go there right now and hopefully he can enjoy his football and be ready for us next season.”