When it comes to William Saliba time is on Arsenal’s side. Tied to a long-term contract, the 19-year-old’s role in Mikel Arteta’s plans for the future has not been diminished by his somewhat slow adaptation to life at London Colney.
Despite what Arteta termed a “lost year” when injuries and COVID-19 limited Saliba to just 19 games on loan at Saint-Etienne, from whom Arsenal had signed him for £28million, hopes are high for the young centre-back. His prime is likely some time away and right now it matters most to the Gunners that he get on the path to his best form, regardless of whose shirt he is wearing.
“He had a lost year last year,” Arteta said of Saliba earlier this month. “For many reasons, that wasn’t the transition year that he needed because he had a lot of injuries, some personal issues and also with COVID-19.
“He needs that year of transition and we are trying to make the right decisions for him to give him the best transitional year to have the player we want in our future.”
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There may be no need to rush Saliba into the first team but in the coming week Arsenal do find themselves at a crucial juncture in Saliba’s early career with the youngster set to depart on loan for a Championship club. Finding the right one in a league that can have little time for sentiment and development poses quite the challenge.
It is one that Arsenal themselves would admit they have not always addressed with complete success. A year ago Eddie Nketiah was toiling in the Championship, confined to appearances off the bench as Marcelo Bielsa favoured Patrick Bamford to spearhead Leeds’ bid for promotion.
Every occasion Nketiah did not start cost Leeds more in loan fees but it was a price worth paying compared to the riches on offer in the Premier League. Arsenal wanted their young striker to have the challenge of fighting for his place, as did the…