Mikel Arteta has revealed that Technical Director Edu and Loan Manager Ben Knapper were both in the stands at the Stade Velodrome last Sunday as William Saliba produced an impressive display in Marseille’s 0-0 draw with Paris Saint Germain.
Challenged to pit his wits against attacking trio Neymar, Leo Messi and Kylian Mbappe, the Arsenal loanee delivered a clean sheet, in no small part thanks to an incredible last-ditch tackle to deny the latter a run through on goal with seven minutes remaining.
Asked whether he’d seen the performance and been in touch with the defender, Arteta said: “Yes, I did. As a club we’re always in touch. They went to see that game as well. Edu and Ben [Knapper] were there to watch him and to keep a close eye on him and the progress that he’s making.
“Obviously, he’s our player. We do that with all the loan players that we have.”
In the summer, instead of incorporating Saliba into the first team squad, the club chose to spend £50 million on Ben White and sanctioned a third loan in his homeland for the 20-year-old. Naturally, many have asked why a player who consistently performs well in Ligue 1 hasn’t yet had a chance to shine for his parent club.
“Everything is linked,” said Arteta. “Obviously the amount of centre-backs we could have in the team, the issues that we had in the past, the numbers we had and the imbalance we had in the position.
“And because of William’s decision in his career right now to make the minutes that he’s making and the progress that he’s making. We believe it was the right thing to do.”
A hypothetical situation was also put to the boss. If Saliba were at Arsenal this season, would he be a first team regular or more likely to have featured when the second string had a run out against Leeds in the Carabao Cup.
“If…but at the moment he’s there [in Marseille] and he played a different game that week,” replied Arteta. “He continues to do what he needs to do which is play a lot of games and play well.”
He also wouldn’t be drawn on what will happen in the future. “That’s a decision we’ll make in the summer. Naturally, that will happen, we’ll have to sit down and decide what is the best next step.”