Why Arteta has handled the Saliba situation perfectly

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - MARCH 25: William Saliba of France during the international friendly match between France and Ivory Coast at Orange Velodrome on March 25, 2022 in Marseille, . (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)
MARSEILLE, FRANCE - MARCH 25: William Saliba of France during the international friendly match between France and Ivory Coast at Orange Velodrome on March 25, 2022 in Marseille, . (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) /

William Saliba had a superb spell with Marseille that culminated with him being named Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year, as Mikel Arteta’s decision to delay his return to north London proved to be a wise one.

When the 21-year-old was sent out on loan again last summer, many Gooners thought they would never see the promising defender in Arsenal colours ever.

After signing for £27m in 2019 to such fanfare, the defender has been sent out on loan three times and has not played a single match for the Gunners.

Saliba produced great displays with Nice as he joined the French club in January of 2021 before returning to Arsenal, only to be loaned out again, this time to Marseille. The writing was on the wall. Or so we thought.

Mikel Arteta has been proved right with the William Saliba situation

Arsenal, MA
Mikel Arteta now wants William Saliba in his Arsenal squad. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images) /

Many had taken Mikel Arteta to task for his treatment of the talented defender. Many thought he deserved to play ahead of Gabriel, Ben White, and Rob Holding, but the Spaniard stuck to his guns. Now, his decision to loan Saliba out this season looks to have been a masterstroke.

With the Gunners not competing in Europe this season and only having the league and two cup competitions to play, the game time wasn’t there. So, instead of having Saliba sit on the bench and have the media circus surrounding perhaps the best defensive talent the club has seen in well over a decade, the Spaniard decided to send him away to get regular first-team football.

Arteta spoke to RMC Sport a couple of weeks ago regarding his decision to send the 21-year-old on loan again.

"“He has to come back. He has the experience and the environment necessary to be competitive with us,” Arteta said.“If he had stayed with us this year, with a match of Premier League a week, with Ben White and Gabriel, he wouldn’t have had half the playing time he had with Marseille, that’s for sure. For his growth and what he can do next season that wouldn’t have been good.”"

So now we look at the situation, and it is clear that Mikel Arteta handled it perfectly. The 21-year-old was a regular starter, played some incredible football, and got much-needed confidence.

Instead of having a young player unsure of his ability and feeling the pressure to perform when given one game every three weeks, Arsenal now has a player full of confidence and is firmly targeting a starting job with the Gunners.

Something that we can all agree on is well within reach despite Gabriel and Ben White forming a great partnership. Such is Saliba’s talent; both will nervously look over their shoulders, not to mention Rob Holding moving further down the pecking order.

The defender’s interview with French outlet Telefoot was built up for weeks as we would finally know his thoughts about returning. Would he want to cut ties and head back to Marseille, perhaps permanently? Or would he want to fight for a place in the team? He chose the latter.

In his interview, the 21-year-old stated his desire to return and play for the club and its fans.

"“I belong to Arsenal; I still have two years left,” Saliba said.“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.”"

Had Mikel Arteta kept the youngster around the club last season with little to no chance of seeing any game time, Saliba’s confidence would have been shaken, wondering why he wasn’t playing, which would have hurt him.

He comes back to north London intending to displace either Gabriel or Ben White in the starting line-up, and that is due to Arteta sending him out for regular football. He was sent out to prove himself and refine his craft. He has done more than that, as his loan spell allowed us to see what an unbelievable talent he is.

William Saliba isn’t content with a bench role; he wants to start. That competitive drive and competition for places will only improve Arsenal’s defence.

In Arteta we trust? At this point, it is hard to argue with the results.