William Saliba is Arsenal’s second defender to exit the Emirates in the January transfer window – with the promise of more to follow.
The 19-year-old French defender, still yet to make his senior Gunners debut, is joining Nice on loan.
His return to Ligue 1 is the second temporary deal already signed off by the North London club this month, with Sead Kolasinac returning to Bundesliga crisis club Schalke.
But while the absence of any kind of purchase option in Saliba’s switch to the Cote d’Azur shows that he remains part of Arsenal’s long-term planning, club chiefs are forging ahead with plans for a cull within its defensive ranks between now and the end of summer.
Manager Mikel Arteta – who gave the all-clear for Saliba to exit having deemed him not yet ready for Premier League action – is continuing with plans to revamp the side’s defensive line.
This season has seen Arteta use a plethora of centre-backs at the heart of his defence, as the Spaniard has chopped and changed between using a flat back four and a central defensive trio.
He has recently reverted to a back four with Rob Holding and Pablo Mari striking up a solid partnership in Arsenal’s recent three-match winning run.
Summer signing Gabriel Magalhaes has impressed since arriving from Lille in the summer and remains the club’s long-term first choice.
Indeed the left-side of defence is already nailed down for the coming years, with the left-footed Brazilian and Kieran Tierney, plus Mari in place as a solid back up to Gabriel.
It is the right-sided roles which are of greater concern. Currently it is Holding and Hector Bellerin in possession of the shirts, but the former has forever been seen as a backup option – and that is unlikely to change – while the Spaniard is once more being linked with an exit in the summer, this time back to Barcelona, with presidential candidate Joan Laporta keen on a return.
A clear out is expected over the next eight months and when Saliba returns from his loan at the Allianz Riviera, things are expected to look very differently.
Sokratis is already half out the door, having been left out of the club’s Premier League squad in the first half of the season. His deal is up in the summer but Arsenal are hoping European interest will come to fruition to get the veteran Greek off the books this month.
Shkodran Mustafi, who rejected a contract extension offer last year, is for sale but the club have struggled to find a buyer for the Germany international thus far – as in previous transfer windows. Like Sokratis, his deal is up in the summer and he is keen to return to mainland Europe.
Calum Chambers is down the pecking order and can depart this month, potentially on loan with a view to a permanent exit at a later date, while they’ll hope a buyer can be sought for Kolasinac too.
And David Luiz, who has also fallen from first-team favour, will be allowed to exit in the summer when his own big-money contract expires.
Ahead of 2021-22, the question will return to whether Saliba is ready to partner Gabriel, or if the club pursues another right-footed centre-back.
The situation at right-back, where Bellerin is holding off Ainsley Maitland-Niles, with Cedric Soares in the background too, will also be more clear.
As it stands none are guaranteed to depart given their respective contract situations, but nor are any guaranteed to be in situ when the first game of next season rolls around.
Will William Saliba become first choice at Arsenal? Have your say in the comments.
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