Thursday, June 20, 2024

Saliba speaks about his Arsenal future, but …

Hello, and welcome to a brand new week.

The main story this morning is William Saliba and an interview that he gave to French TV yesterday about his future. He sparked a lot of celebration when he said:

“I belong to Arsenal, I still have two years left. I will be back with Arsenal. I have played zero matches and I still want to show them my true face and have the chance to play for these fans and this great club.”

These follow Mikel Arteta’s comments last week when he made it clear he saw the Frenchman as part of the squad for next season, saying:

He has to come back. He has the experience and the environment necessary to be competitive with us.

First thing to say is that I’m happy about it. I want to see this player in red and white. It’s been a strange few years with his initial signing at a very young age, the pandemic and some poor decision making from Arsenal impacting his development, but as I wrote a few weeks ago, whatever happens with him this loan spell has been beneficial. Not just for him as a player, but for Arsenal as a club. He comes back a better player after his season with Marseille; and he comes back a more valuable player after his season with Marseille.

And look, I completely understand why people have invested in him. We signed him at 18 years of age at a time when we were still enduring the hot mess that was Shkodran Mustafi and we had the brief, barely tolerable David Luiz era as well. Saliba was like a white knight in some ways, the opposite of those kind of poorly thought-out signings. Instead he was a player for the future, and the answer to our defensive prayers.

Except at that age he wasn’t. He had some personal issues too, and there’s a steep learning curve for central defenders in the early part of your career. It’s a position where you have to make mistakes to develop, and I think if you look back at what Arteta said all along, his decisions were not made to punish William Saliba, but to do right by a young centre-half who probably wasn’t ready for the Premier League. There’s no doubt he is now, and I hope we get to see how ready next season as he competes with Ben White and Gabriel.

However, let’s not ignore the fact we have to think about the entirety of his situation. He says himself, he has two years left on his contract. There are reports that Arsenal want to offer an extension, and that makes sense for obvious reasons. We’ve just seen a striker we paid £50m for leave for free, the latest addition to the collection of players in recent years who had significant value at some point but who have departed without us getting a single penny in return.

That’s not sustainable, especially when this is a squad that still requires investment, so it’s something we have to consider. Especially if new terms are presented and Saliba isn’t willing to sign them. I realise this is a worst case scenario, but we have to be open to that possibility and what it might mean. He could play a lot this season and be convinced of his future here, then go on to sign a new deal next summer, but he might also then realise he’s 12 months away from a Bosman and that’s a situation we don’t want to be in.

If he wanted to see how much he’s involved before committing to a new contract, that’s not unreasonable either, so getting that done this summer might be tricky. The other thing which left me just slightly uneasy was the ‘will he, won’t he?’ element to this interview. On the one hand, I understand it because he had a great time at Marseille, but should we really be celebrating the idea that a 21 year old who has yet to make his debut for us has ‘chosen’ to stay?

He is our player, he has a contract, what else could he have said in that interview? If he’d used it to look for a move it would have been ill-advised and unprofessional, and I don’t think he’s either of those things. As I said above, I’m glad he’s coming back to work hard and show Arsenal fans what he’s all about, because I think he’s got everything you need in a modern centre-half. If this was an actual signing we’d be very excited about bringing in a player of his talent and profile, but this is literally LANS – like a new signing – because he’s already our player.

Hopefully we can work things out to everyone’s benefit though, because his potential is obvious. I think he’d provide greater depth at centre-half than we have right now, and I also think that his presence might allow Ben White to cover for Takehiro Tomiyasu at right-back if required – a player who is much more analogous to the Japanese international than Cedric is. I also think this iteration of Arsenal, a youthful collective that can grow together,  is far more suited to him than the one he first arrived into.

It’s easy to see a path for him at this club, and that’s important because having broken into the France squad, he’s got the World Cup in his sights, so fingers crossed the obstacles can be overcome and we finally get to see William Saliba – not just for next season, but for seasons to come.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you today, but it will be later than usual – probably some time in the late afternoon. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Until then, take it easy.

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