William Saliba has admitted the start to his Arsenal career has been difficult for a number of reasons, but sounded a philosophical note about it after he was formally introduced by his on-loan club, Nice.
The 19 year old made his debut in midweek as his new team lost 2-0 to Brest, playing 90 minutes for the first time since March of last year (some U23 appearances for Arsenal aside).
His high profile £28m move to the Gunners raised expectations about what he might bring to the side, and the centre-half also revealed that Mikel Arteta had been up front with him from the very start.
Speaking today, Saliba said of his time in North London so far, “My first six months were difficult, because I was coming from six months where I wasn’t able to train because I was at home [because of Covid-19].
“I couldn’t train outside, couldn’t play. I arrived there as they were finishing the league season, so I was training alone.
“As soon as they came back from holidays, we quickly had the first friendly matches where I lacked rhythm and was a bit insufficient physically.
“The coach immediately told me that I was not ready. I would have at least liked to have a chance to rediscover my rhythm, but this is football, it’s like that.”
Arteta has been consistent on this matter, playing down expectations in July, and more than once insisting a young defender needs to be introduced carefully into the Premier League.
He sounded the same note again this week, saying, “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.
“I want to protect the player that we signed and the future that we have alongside him.
“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.”
Despite reports to the contrary, the plan is for him to ‘play and play’ at Nice, and return to Arsenal in the summer to compete for a place in the team.
“He will come back for pre-season and will be with us,” said Arteta. “Hopefully, he’ll come back having played a number of games and his performance is raising and his development progressing in the right way.”