When Arsenal signed William Saliba last summer, hopes were high that the Gunners had a long-term answer at centre-back.
Unai Emery let the Frenchman return to Saint Etienne as part of the deal, in order for the 18-year-old to continue progressing in Ligue 1.
However, a combination of injuries and the Covid-19 outbreak, meant Saliba only managed 17 appearances in all competitions.
Emery’s successor, Mikel Arteta admitted that it was a lost season for Saliba, as he failed to progress to the level Arsenal were looking for.
Arsenal tried their best to give the defender another loan deal in the summer window, but after that failed to materialise, he has been left to play with the Under-23s in north London.
Earlier this month, Arteta explained the thinking behind leaving Saliba out of his Europa League squad: “I am fed up with the situation because as you could see we tried to find a way in the last few days [of the transfer window] to give him some football,” he said.
“I explained that he needed that transition year when we decided to buy him and send him on loan to Saint-Etienne, for many reasons that didn’t happen, he didn’t have that transition year and he needs to go through that.
“At the moment, with the amount of central defenders that we have in the team we had to leave him out of the squad which is painful because we have some injuries and we could have used him, but it’s part of this profession.”
Arteta went on to confirm that Saliba will be available for loan in January, despite his side conceding 10 times in their opening eight league games.
Arsenal’s loan manager Rob Knapper would have extensively scouted Saliba’s performances back in France and clearly reported he wasn’t ready for the demands of Premier League football.
But next to Saliba in that team was a player who has taken to England’s top-flight like a duck to water.
Wesley Fofana was signed by Leicester City at the end of the window and aged just three months older than the Arsenal defender, there were thoughts of a similar acclimation period.
Similarly to Saliba, Fofana’s final season in France was ended prematurely due to coronavirus – but unlike his old teammate, he already looks every bit, the Premier League player.
Does William Saliba deserve a chance in Arsenal’s first-team? Have your say below.
Speaking after his side’s win at Wolves, a victory that moved the Foxes to the top of the table, Brendan Rodgers was unequivocal in his praise for Fofana.
“We knew he was a top player for someone so young, and when we spoke to people out there and seeing all the clips, you could see he has anticipation as a defender, he has speed, he has aggression, he defends forward, so all the attributes we like here,” said Rodgers.
“I think the surprising thing is that if you look at the seven games he’s played and the level of the teams we’ve played, and the consistent run of games, how he’s coped with that. He’s absolutely colossal for a young guy.”
Arteta clearly believes that for the short-term at least, Saliba would be a detriment to his starting XI. But there must be a pang of frustration at the Emirates, that the player that was directly next to him, already looks the real deal.
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