Arsenal were hoping to have signed a world-class center-back from the future when they struck a deal worth up to £ 27million for William Saliba in the summer of 2019.
He was only 18 at the time, but he had already made the breakthrough in Ligue 1 with Saint-Etienne, somewhat mimicking the career path of Raphael Varane, whose emergence as a teenager in Lens in 2011 led to a quick transfer to Real Madrid. ..and look how it turned out.
But 18 months after the Gunners landed the coveted signing of Saliba, he seems more likely to quit this month than to thrive long-term as an Arsenal player.
Reports in France have suggested that a meeting this week between the club and Saliba’s camp resulted in an agreement that he can leave either on loan or permanently in January. It has also been claimed in his homeland that he was prepared to cut his weekly salary by almost half – from around £ 40,000 to the equivalent of just over £ 20,000 – to return to St. Etienne.
In short, things turned out badly for Saliba.
The road has not been smooth from the very beginning. Once he signed for the Gunners, he remained at Saint-Etienne on loan for the 2019/20 season in the hope that he would continue to play regularly and would not have had that opportunity at Arsenal for at least a little moment.
But Saliba was limited to just 12 Ligue 1 appearances for Saint-Etienne, the result of a hamstring dismissal at the start of the campaign, later suffering from a broken foot, and finally dropping out. the French championship season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Before the cancellation of the season, Saint-Étienne had progressed to the final of the Coupe de France, which had to be postponed until July in order to continue.
The French club wanted Saliba to play, despite his initial loan deal expiring a month earlier, but a row with Arsenal over their concerns about the player’s fitness and training which resulted in public statements tit for tat on either side prevented him from appearing.
It has been a disappointing season that has not helped his development as expected, even though Saliba looked to be starting over at Arsenal in 2020/21. He received the club’s famous number four jersey, taken away from Mohamed Elneny, hinting at a role in the first team.
Saliba was on the bench for the Community Shield against Liverpool and had appeared in the pre-season. Since then, however, he has only formed one team from Matchday 1 – an unused Carabao Cup substitute – and has played exclusively at the Under-23 level.
In November, manager Mikel Arteta lamented Saliba’s situation, having viewed 2019/20 as an important “transition” year before joining Arsenal properly. He obviously didn’t get it, but Arteta still wanted him to have it and explained that the club had tried and failed to find a new club on loan for 2020/21.
“I explained that he needed this year of transition when we decided to buy him and send him on loan to Saint-Etienne. For many reasons that hasn’t happened – he hasn’t had this transition year and he has to go through it, ”Arteta said, reflecting on the situation.
This is a big part of why Saliba has yet to make his Gunners debut. Arteta does not consider him ready and is unwilling to take that bet, despite Sokratis having left the club’s Premier League and Europa League sides and using Kieran Tierney and Sead Kolasinac, both left-backs by trade, as an auxiliary central rear. in the first weeks of the season.
Saliba’s situation has also not been helped since by a red card in an EFL Trophy loss by Wimbledon last month which highlighted his inexperience and naivety.
Arsenal clearly saw enough talent and potential in him to commit up to £ 27million in the deal to sign him. Selling him so early, almost certainly for a big loss if it did, would be myopic, especially for a player who is still a teenager and won’t be 20 until March.
A loan, perhaps for a longer term of 18 months, so that Saliba has the chance to play a long series of games anywhere, might be even better for both parties. That way the player could return to North London with invaluable senior experience and renewed confidence to try again.
The only certainty is that the situation as it stands is not good for anyone.
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