Will William Saliba play for Arsenal? As he closes in on the end of his loan spell with Marseille, it’s a question that bubbles up week after week.
A regular at the Stade Velodrome – the centre-back has made 40 appearances this season – his time in the south of France couldn’t have gone much better. Underlining his progress, he last week became a fully-fledged France international.
On Thursday, Mikel Arteta said he’s pleased with how things are going for the 21-year-old but it remains to be seen how he fits into next season’s plans.
For his part, Saliba is adamant he won’t go back to being a benchwarmer.
“I’m sure I can’t just be on the bench at Arsenal and be happy,” he told L’Equipe this week.
“I want to play as a starter. Afterwards, if I come into the rotation as a substitute, it’s not like staying with the Under-23s and never being in the squad.”
Signed from Saint-Etienne for £27 million in 2019, the defender was immediately loaned back to the Ligue 1 club with a view to garnering more first team experience.
Injuries and the pandemic put a spanner in the works and on returning to London he also found himself having to impress a new boss.
Arteta quickly decided Saliba wasn’t going to be part of his plans and sanctioned another loan that Arsenal messily failed to get done in time.
Not registered with the first team, he was subsequently forced to play with the under-23s for four months before Nice took him on loan in the second half of the season. That spell was enough to persuade Marseille to make their move and the Gunners didn’t stand in the way.
This season, we’ve been monitoring him closely, sending Edu and loan manager Ben Knapper to watch him in person.
“They [Arsenal] are often in contact with my agent,” Saliba reflected.
“They send me messages. They watch my matches. They tell me to continue like this. I haven’t played much with the Gunners. The coach [Mikel Arteta] made his choices, that’s life. I left on loan, I played matches and, thanks to my performances, I became a [senior] international.
“What happened to me helped forge a mental toughness. You don’t play just because you cost €30million. I take it positively. Even if there are times when you ask yourself questions.
“For six months, I saw that I was the only one in the group not to play, it hurt.”
It’s definitely going to be interesting to see what we do with Saliba. If he’s thinking he could make France’s squad for the World Cup in November/December, it could well influence his thinking when discussions with Arsenal take place in the summer.