William Saliba: From Loanee to Creating First Team Rivalry (008)

With Hector Bellerin set to depart from the club this summer, has Mikel Arteta finally realised the young talent we possess to replace him and potentially take the number 2 shirt? If the rumours are true, the France U21s captain has already agreed a new deal to extend his contract after positive talks before the US tour. Saliba has been sent on three separate loan spells to develop his skill set and Mikel Arteta is now adamant that Saliba is part of his first team plans for the upcoming 2022/23 season. Many Arsenal fans, myself included,  are relieved for the new Gabriel/Saliba/White rivalry, as it seems the days of Mustafi/Sokratis/Holding are long gone.

Following a phenomenal season for French side Olympique Marseille which saw him being named as Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year, and being awarded a position in the Team of the Year, it is an exciting time to see yet more young talent come up through the ranks. He played a total of 55 matches for the French side and managed to assist in keeping 20 clean sheets. It is clear that Saliba’s strengths well outweigh his weaknesses; what he lacks in his leap and aerial duels he makes up for with his versatility at being able to play RCB and LCB, his incredible passing accuracy, and his recovery speed which enables the team to play high-line on and off the ball without hesitations defensively.He finally made his second debut, and played fantastically, in the friendly against Everton, and if his performance in that game is anything to go off, he will be providing a much-needed rivalry with Gabriel and White for the CB position. His performance against Orlando City in a sloppy 3-1 victory was outstanding; following 35 minutes on the pitch, he had a 100% pass accuracy and won 100% of duels.

Saliba’s passion for Arsenal is clear, as he said in a recent interview: “When I was on loan I watched every single [Arsenal] game because when I was there some players weren’t. I watched the games to see how they played, so when I was back it would be easier to play with those I hadn’t met before.” and “It’s important that the fans are behind you, and I like it very much. I can’t wait to give back to them.” It is undeniable that he wanted to make his mark on the first team and is now finally being given a well deserved chance. This is reinforced by his rejection of the interest in several clubs, especially OM, who were expected to put in a decent offer to buy him following his success on loan, especially with the team having qualified for Champions League football in the upcoming season. The fact that Arsenal were his boyhood club also adds a deeper level to his passion and commitment to the club, something we have seen more of in the last season with Ramsdale’s celebrations, the success of our Hale End Graduates, and most recently the signing of Zinchenko from Manchester City, who grew up supporting Arsenal.

I think it’s safe to say that Arteta has proven the Twitter trolls wrong with this one, as he received a lot of backlash for sending Saliba out on so many loans, but he has clearly got it right as the player has matured well beyond his 21 years and will hopefully have a seamless transition into the Premier League and our first team. Saliba has developed into a calm, natural leader on the pitch and it is exciting to see what the future holds for him at Arsenal.

Written by: Abby Goodson @_abbygoodson

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