Exclusive: William Saliba’s Arsenal frustrations and why the door to a permanent exit is now open

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08: William Saliba of Arsenal U21 walks off from pitch after receiving red card during the EFL Trophy match between AFC Wimbledon and Arsenal U21 at Plough Lane on December 8, 2020 in Wimbledon, England. (Photo by Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images)

Saliba’s St Etienne situation

When William Saliba was signed for Arsenal from St Etienne in the summer of 2019, it was looked upon as a real coup by the club to sign a player of such high potential.

At the time, the Gunners were willing to allow Saliba to be loaned back to St Etienne for the following 2019-20 campaign. A show of faith in the youngster and in the knowledge that he would develop over the course of the season and return to integrate into the first team.

During the year, the Frenchman faced many complications both in France and at Arsenal. Saliba missed 15 league games through injury alone. The start of the season saw a hamstring injury keep him out of the first 7 matches.

William Saliba

Montpellier’s French forward Gaitan Laborde (L) vies with Saint-Etienne’s French defender William Saliba (R) during the French L1 football match between Saint-Etienne (ASSE) and Montpellier (MHSC) on May 10, 2019, at the Geoffroy Guichard Stadium in Saint-Etienne, central France. (Photo by JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP) (Photo credit should read JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK/AFP/Getty Images)

Following a brief return of 5 games and 4 starts, Saliba fractured his metatarsal meaning he would then miss the next eight matches. The young French centre-back returned for the 21st Ligue 1 fixture but was an unused substitute. However, from that point forward he would start all the remaining league games, until the decision was made, due to the coronavirus pandemic, to curtail the league.

Meanwhile in London, the manager Saliba was signed under, Unai Emery, was sacked and replaced by former club captain Mikel Arteta.

The French Cup final

Saliba returned to Arsenal and his problems at the club would begin. Prior to French football’s termination of the 2019-20 season, the Frenchman helped St Etienne reach the Coupe de France final – starting in the round of 16, quarter-final and semi-final matches.

However, Saliba would never play the final, which PSG won 1-0. With the final taking place after the expiration of the agreed loan deal, St Etienne wanted to agree a deal with Arsenal which would see Saliba return to play the final.

However, it was stated to the club’s ‘surprise’ they were unable to reach an agreement with St Etienne.

“To our surprise we were unable to reach agreement to this plan which was proposed by our medical experts, and we are simply not prepared to risk the welfare of an Arsenal player.”

“While it was not our primary concern, and ultimately not relevant as our training plan was not accepted, we also expected not to be financially disadvantaged by extending the loan. This was also not acceptable to St Etienne. We know this is a disappointment for William but he understands we are working to protect his long-term interests and those of Arsenal.”

101 understands that Saliba pushed heavily to be involved in the final with his boyhood club and that the Frenchman did so in such a way that it would impact his early chances to earn senior minutes at the club.

Whilst Saliba was with St Etienne, at Arsenal, another young player in Matteo Guendouzi was removed from Arsenal’s first team training due to issues going on behind-the-scenes following an altercation during the Arsenal match away at Brighton with Neal Maupay. According to football.london Guendouzi was given several opportunities to apologise for his actions.

Exclusive: William Saliba’s Arsenal frustrations and why the door to a permanent exit is now open

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 22: Arsenal Head Coach Mikel Arteta with Matteo Guendouzi during a training session at London Colney on December 22, 2019 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The incident with Guendouzi showed that the management are not willing to tolerate any form of negative behaviour or actions that go against the wishes of the club and the consequence being suspension from first-team action.

101 understands that Saliba is very unhappy with how he has been treated. The Frenchman is thought to still be very keen to play for Arsenal, however, should the opportunity to play first-team football at the club not arise in the near future, be that for this season or after a possible loan in January, he would be open to a permanent departure for the benefit of his career.

Better than youth football

Whilst Saliba has not been playing first-team football, he has been featuring with the under 23s in the Premier League 2 and the under-21 squad in the EFL Trophy. Saliba has stood out in these performances with his strong defensive ability and reading of the game. His passing has been that of a player who clearly has expectations upon him to stand out amongst the crowd – which for a central defender is difficult.

In a breakdown of the Frenchman’s performance against Gillingham in the EFL Cup, it was clear to see that the Frenchman was trying to move play forward with long-range passes, which did not always reach the intended target. He should have also seen a red card for a foul on the last man towards the end of the match. He was, however, sent off for a second yellow card offence in the 3-0 loss to Wimbledon after a lunging tackle having already been booked earlier in the match.

Exclusive: William Saliba’s Arsenal frustrations and why the door to a permanent exit is now open

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 20: William Saliba of Arsenal during the PL2 match between Arsenal U23 and Everton U23 at Emirates Stadium on November 20, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

This led to suggestions that Saliba was therefore not ready, based upon these and other showings, to be thrown into the first-team setup.

101 understands that Saliba knows he has a lot of learning to do but feels that at his level and age he should not be playing youth team football.

Ahead of Arsenal’s last Europa League group stage match against Dundalk, Mikel Arteta was asked about Saliba and hinted towards possible professional issues which he had faced over recent months in addition to explaining when he would play.

“Whenever we have the spaces and we believe that he’s ready to play with us. To be fair, he’s made massive improvements in the last few months and it’s been a really tricky situation for him. As I mentioned before, designed a pathway for him and there were a lot of things that happened to him in his personal life and professionally as well,” said Arteta.

The future of several other Arsenal centre-backs looks to be finite. Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and David Luiz will all see their contracts expire at the end of the season. It has been therefore surprising to see the German selected in many Arsenal first-team squads in the League Cup and Premier League despite his likely departure.

Exclusive: William Saliba’s Arsenal frustrations and why the door to a permanent exit is now open

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 05: David Luiz of Arsenal discusses with Sokratis of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Emirates Stadium on December 05, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

Even with the expansion of the substitutes bench from seven to nine in the league, Saliba has not been included in a senior squad since the League Cup third-round tie against Leicester City where he was an unused substitute.

Mustafi started alongside Gabriel and Sead Kolasinac in the quarter-final tie against Manchester City, the Bosnian is also a player whose Arsenal future looks likely to end having seen a reported summer Deadline Day move to Bayer Leverkusen collapse.

Pablo Mari was chosen as the central defender on the Gunners’ bench despite Saliba being eligible to play. Speaking after the game Arteta was asked if Saliba was close to being involved saying, “He cannot be involved because he is not in the squad.”

Arteta clarified that the club had made the decision not to include him. “We made that decision with him and we’ll see what we’re going to do in January,” said Arteta.

Saliba’s near future appears to be a loan deal away from Arsenal. Arteta has spoken in several press conferences about the possibility of the Frenchman leaving on loan and mentioned that it is an option they are looking at. “We are talking about it, yes,” he said after the City match regarding a temporary departure.

The club invested £27 million in William Saliba, and would have not done so if they did not believe in the potential of this young burgeoning talent. The next six months appear to be a defining period for the 19-year-old. With Arsenal reported to want another right-sided centre-back, how Saliba performs will determine where in the Arsenal pecking order he returns at the end of the season.

Should that place not be in the first-team squad, the Frenchman may look for a more permanent departure from the Emirates.

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This article was edited by
Josh Barker.

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# Team MP D P
1 Liverpool FC 15 17 32
2 Everton FC 15 7 29
3 Leicester City FC 15 9 28
4 Manchester United FC 14 7 27
5 Tottenham Hotspur FC 15 11 26
6 Manchester City FC 14 9 26
7 Aston Villa FC 13 14 25
8 Chelsea FC 15 13 25
9 Southampton FC 15 6 25
10 West Ham United FC 15 2 22
11 Wolverhampton Wanderers FC 15 -5 21
12 Leeds United 15 -5 20
13 Newcastle United FC 14 -7 18
14 Crystal Palace FC 15 -9 18
15 Arsenal FC 15 -4 17
16 Brighton & Hove Albion FC 15 -6 13
17 Burnley FC 14 -12 13
18 Fulham FC 15 -10 11
19 West Bromwich Albion 15 -19 8
20 Sheffield United FC 15 -18 2
Player Team Goals
Salah, Mohamed Liverpool FC 13
Son, Heung Min Tottenham Hotspur FC 11
Vardy, Jamie Leicester City FC 11
Calvert-Lewin, Dominic Everton FC 11
Fernandes, Bruno Manchester United FC 10
Bamford, Patrick Leeds United 10
Kane, Harry Tottenham Hotspur FC 9
Zaha, Wilfried Crystal Palace FC 8
Wilson, Callum Newcastle United FC 8
Rashford, Marcus Manchester United FC 6
Ings, Danny Southampton FC 6
Mane, Sadio Liverpool FC 6
Watkins, Ollie Aston Villa FC 6
Abraham, Tammy Chelsea FC 6
Grealish, Jack Aston Villa FC 5
Firmino, Roberto Liverpool FC 5
Maupay, Neal Brighton & Hove Albion FC 5
Barnes, Harvey Leicester City FC 5
El Ghazi, Anwar Aston Villa FC 5
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