Three years after signing for the Gunners in a £27 million deal, William Saliba looks set to make his competitive debut for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta’s men get the 2022/23 season underway at Crystal Palace.
Green behind the ears when he first arrived in London, the 21-year-old has since embarked on three loan spells away from the club, become a fully-fledged France international and been crowned France’s Young Player of the Year.
While his pathway to the first team at Emirates Stadium has been very unusual, manager Arteta believes the player’s promising progress is proof the club were right to send him elsewhere to play regular football.
“I am really happy in how he’s adapted,” said Arteta. “Obviously it’s always something that you have to see, spending a year away from here in a completely different league.
“But playing the amount of minutes that he played and the way you could see he was growing and developing, he gave us a lot of reasons that he could be the player that we need.
“And in the last few weeks, he’s given us every reason to believe that we made the right decision, loaning him for a year because he now looks ready to go.”
Signed during Unai Emery’s tenure by Raul Sanllehi, there was, for quite some time, a sense that Saliba, in Arteta’s eyes, belonged to a bygone era. He did take a look at him ahead of the 2020/21 campaign but quickly decided the centre-back wasn’t up to scratch. This summer, things went very differently.
Arteta went on the record very early about his desire to integrate the Frenchman and he’s stuck by his word giving the player plenty of game time in pre-season.
“In our opinion, it’s not just my opinion, he needed that exposure [on loan],” continued Arteta.
“You don’t see players at 18 or 19 years old playing at their highest level in top clubs. It just doesn’t happen.
“We, as a club, a few years ago made a big investment because we believed he could be a player who could make a significant impact in our team and we believe again that the best way to do it is to give him a pathway that we couldn’t give him here, especially because we didn’t have Europe so he wouldn’t play so many minutes or very few minutes.
“Now we have a very different context and hopefully that will prove that for him and for the club it was the right decision. But at the time, I understand that we get criticised.”