William Saliba – Arsenal’s new £60million centre back

The noise only really came from the minorities.

Those on the fringes of Arsenal’s fan base. Those that go OTT in either their criticism or support of something (or someone) Arsenal related. Usually to try and get attention.

It is no different to politics really. Those minorities with extreme views often have the loudest voices and get the most air time. Meanwhile there is a silent majority in the middle that is reasonable. That hold un-extreme views. that do not over react to every little thing.

William Saliba was on man that the minorities fought over.

On one side you had those that saw him as a reason to abuse Mikel Arteta, Edu and Arsenal.

They would use Saliba to label Arteta as someone who could not develop youth. That fell out with players too easily – this despite Arsenal having the youngest starting XI last season and many of those youngsters name checking Arteta as a man key for their development.

Then on the other side you had those who were writing Saliba off. that he was not very good, had a poor attitude and would never make it. These had probably never seen him play and were building their negative view of Saliba to simply counteract those who were using the Frenchman to attack Arsenal.

But the vast majority remained silent. They could see what Arteta and the club were doing with Saliba. And understood Saliba’s talent.

Those silent majority have now been proved right in keeping their opinions to themselves, and supporting Saliba on loan whilst also supporting Arsenal on the pitch.

Saliba had joined Arsenal at 19 for just £27million. He quickly gained fan boys. But he was clearly not ready for senior Premier League football.

As part of the deal, Arsenal had agreed to loan Saliba back to Saint-Étienne. It was a deal that suited all involved.

Saint-Étienne would keep their star centre back for another year, Saliba would get a full season of top flight football and Arsenal would inherite a player one year closer to being Premier League ready.

But then the pandemic hit which cut short the French 2019/20 season leaving Saliba with just 11 top flight starts from the campaign.

Saliba returned to Arsenal for the 2020 campaign and it felt like the club did not know what to do with him.

Here was a talented individual that was still very young. He was very much a rough diamond that needed to be shined. But like with many young defenders, Arsenal could not really blood him. Allow him to make the mistakes that would cost us games.

Saliba was also suffering from personal issues. Having lost his father in 2018, Saliba’s mum passed away in 2020.

This led Saliba to enter a bit of a wilderness 6 months.

Not part of Arsenal’s first team squad, not registered for the Europa League squads, and only making the odd appearance here or there for the U23s. These performances were also not exactly screaming for him to start for the seniors.

The talent was there, but having now lost both his parents before his 20th birthday he struggled to settle in a new country. Arsenal decided to loan him out to Nice for the second half of the 2020/21 season.

At this point, Saliba had 3 half seasons under his belt.

As Arsenal entered the 2021/22 season with no European football, a decision was made to sign Ben White and send Saliba on loan to Marsielle.

It would have been a huge risk for the club to go into 21/22 with such a raw defender. The signing of White with his Premier League (and English football) experience made complete sense.

I am sure under “normal” circumstance, Saliba would have remained at Arsenal for 21/22 and played in the Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup. But with no European football Arsenal simply did not need such a big squad.

So Saliba would go to Marsielle and finally get his first full season of senior football under his belt.

He grew so much last season. Not just on the pitch but off.

The loan deal allowed him to play week in, week out at a lower level and his game came on leaps and bounds due to it. He finished the season with 5 France caps.

Also off the pitch he seemed to mature as the year went on.

After the succesful loan deal, he returned to Arsenal.

The minorities starting slandeirng the club once again. Claiming that Arteta did not want him. that he was refusing to sign a new deal and would push for a move back to Marsielle. But the silent majority could see beyond the lies.

Arsenal had taken their time developing the young defender, ignoring the noise of fans on the fringes.

When you now look at Manchester United signing Lisandro Martínez for £50million. Chelsea signing 31-year-old Kalidou Koulibaly for £33million and reportedly be willing to spend £60million on Saliba’s former Saint-Étienne team mate Wesley Fofana.

Tottenham have recently spent €55million on making the loan deal of Cristian Romero permanent whilst Manchester City have spent over half a billion on cnetral defenders in recent years.

Arsenal took the risk with Saliba, spending big money on him with such little experience.

We signed him with a development plan in mind. Personal reasons and a pandemic extended that development plan by a year. But we now have a 21-year-old central defender on our hands that could become one of the best in the world over the next few years.

Now those in the minority will be saying “we told you he was brilliant”. But this ignores the fact that the silent majority of Arsenal fans never contradicted this. Never wrote him off. Those that did were just a loud minority on the other side.

The vast majority of Arsenal fans could see his talent. But they knew it need harnessing.

So Arsenal now have a £60million+ defend on their hands. Saliba really is like a new signing.

And alongside White and Gabriel, we have the best trio of defenders since Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Martin Keown were at the club.

With 50+ games to be played this season, there will be more than enough games to go around for all three. And they will all push each other to be even better.

Arsenal got the recruitment and development of Saliba right. Now we just need to tie him down to that long term deal before his head begins to get turned by a Champions League side.



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