Mikel Arteta has admitted he has regrets over the fact William Saliba’s loan move didn’t happen at the start of this season, but believes the January move was necessary for the then 19 year old to get regular playing time.
The centre-half has been more or less ever-present for Nice since joining them at the beginning of the year, making 19 appearances in Ligue 1 as well as featuring in two cup ties.
Asked if he, among all the players Arsenal have out loan, needed the temporary move, the Arsenal boss said, “Yes. I would have liked for it to have happened at the start of the season.
“We had eight central defenders, which is unheard of, but we didn’t find the right moment, the right club, the right agreement to do that and in my opinion, we could have used those four or five months in a better way.
“We tried to maximise it when we decided to keep him here until December and now he’s had a run of games that he needed after the difficult year that he had in the previous season.”
In spite of Covid restrictions making it difficult to attend games, Arteta made it clear the club were keeping close tabs on the £28m signing, with loan manager Ben Knapper providing reports and feedback.
“Ben Knapper is always in contact with him.” he said.
“He’s the one creating every assessment. We are as a coaching staff, obviously following his progression, watching his games and in contact with him.
“It’s not an ideal world to feel that you still belong here and you can have a face-to-face relationship, but we try to do it in the best possible way.”
As for his role next season, and Saliba’s potential to replace the departing David Luiz, Arteta said decisions would be made after the season when he, Edu and his coaching staff, make a full assessment of the squad.
“When we finish the season, we will sit down,” said the Spaniard. “We’re still competing.
“We will sit down and discuss the roles of every member of the squad and how they can fulfil that role and he’s our player so he’ll be back here for sure.
“After that, we will make a decision based on the agreement of the role that each player is going to have in the squad.”
Arteta earlier paid tribute to Luiz, whose time at the club will come to and end after Sunday’s final league game of the season against Brighton.
“When you get to know the person, his background, where he was raised in Brazil, what he’s done to get to this point, it’s remarkable,” he said.
“Then you understand a lot of these things have happened for a reason. It’s not just an ability, a quality or determination, it’s many other factors. I’ve really enjoyed learning from him.
“He’s been very helpful every time with the team, and I feel sadness as well because you get attached to the players emotionally. First it’s the player that we have to get the maximum out of, and then it’s the person.
“When it gets to these stages, it’s tough and it hurts because that relationship is now going to be going away at least in this space of not seeing him every day.
“Again, I have to say thank you to him.”