Premier League • England

EXCLUSIVE: William Saliba decision made as Arsenal finally learn defender’s fate

William Saliba, Matteo Guendouzi Marseille during the French championship Ligue 1 football match between OGC Nice and Olympique de Marseille on October 27, 2021 at Stade de l'Aube in Troyes, France

William Saliba wants to return to Arsenal this summer and plans to fight for his first-team place, sources close to the player have indicated to TEAMtalk.

Saliba, then a tender 18, arrived at Arsenal in the summer of 2019 with a huge price tag of £30m. Fast forward three years later and the Frenchman is still yet to kick a ball competitively for the first team. As such, it’s little wonder to see his future with the Gunners called into question.

The 21-year-old has spent his last couple of seasons on loan in Ligue 1 with Saint-Étienne and Marseille. Indeed, Saliba has racked up the most minutes (4,135 at the time of writing) in the current campaign of any player 21 or under in Europe’s top five leagues. As such, Arsenal would consider the loan to be fulfilling its purpose.

The Frenchman’s consistency and form has not gone unnoticed by Europe’s elite. Indeed, Saliba has earned himself a first senior call-up to the current world champions, France. In addition, there is growing interest in the Arsenal man from Atlético Madrid and Marseille.

Mikel Arteta has been clear on who he wants in his squad and who he doesn’t. You either fit the mould or you are out the door.

The key issue for Saliba at Arsenal has always been that he was signed by the club under the ‘old regime’ of Unai Emery. Indeed, as a signing of the likes of fellow Les Bleus Mattéo Guendouzi – as well as Lucas Torreira – all three have found themselves loaned out.

Indeed, both the other two players will leave the club on a permanent basis this summer.

Will William Saliba stay beyond the summer?

Arsenal are focused on homegrown talents this summer and, because the north London side were clever, they registered the central defender in their squad each season, despite sending him out on loan.

That means that once the 2022/23 season begins, he will be classed as a homegrown player. And that will certainly work in his favour. It also makes it less likely that he will be allowed to leave any time soon.

The second and main hurdle, however, centres around his playing time.

Arsenal invested £50m in Benjamin White from Brighton last summer and he’s proven a revelation alongside Gabriel Magalhães in defence.

As such, it’s hard to make an argument as to why Arsenal would want to break that strong partnership up at this time.

However, with a route into Europe now looking likely, opportunities will present themselves for the likes of Saliba to showcase his talents for Arteta. As such, the chance to stake his claim and push into their first-choice XI will not be in short supply.

Arteta has always moulded his squad on that of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. That Citzyens squad has four top central defenders in John Stones, Nathan Aké, Rúben Dias and Aymeric Laporte.

And we understand it’s a similar dynamic the Spaniard will look to emulate with White, Gabriel, Rob Holding and Saliba.

Keeping supporters guessing

A running theme of Saliba’s loan to Marseille has been the player’s ability to speak openly on his future.

Asked recently of his plans for next season, William Saliba hinted there was always that possibility of staying at OM.

“There’s always a chance. I won’t hide that I’m very happy at Marseille,” he said. “I’ve developed, I’ve passed a milestone. I’ve gone to the French national team thanks to Marseille because there’s a lot of visibility.

William Saliba wants to fight for his place at Arsenal

William Saliba wants to fight for his place at Arsenal

William Saliba wants his Arsenal return and is ready to fight for his place in the Arsenal back four

“It’s a big club with a lot of pressure, but when you are good then a lot of good things come your way. We’ll see in May or June depending on the negotiations. Right now, I don’t know what my future holds.”

And while hardly pointing towards an Arsenal return, the information we have is that Saliba will spend next season with his parent club.

From what we understand from sources close to the player, Saliba believes he has what it takes to make it with Arsenal. As a result, he intends to return to London and fight for his place in the Gunners’ first team.

Given the enormous potential of the player, that can only be more great news for Arsenal and Arteta.