New Arsenal favourite William Saliba could have left the club in the summer and two major European sides were in the running for him, according to Fabrizio Romano.
Saliba impressed during loan spells at Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille after Arsenal signed him on a permanent basis in summer 2019. The centre-back finally got his chance under Mikel Arteta in August and soon began to impress.
Saliba helped Arsenal to keep a clean sheet against Crystal Palace on the opening day. He has kept his spot in the Arsenal team since then, playing a full 90 minutes in all of their Premier League matches so far.
Arteta left Saliba on the bench for the 2-1 Europa League win over FC Zurich on September 8. But this was to give the defender a rest and hand an opportunity to his team-mate Rob Holding.
Saliba has done so well in the Prem that he has broken up the centre-half partnership between Gabriel Magalhaes and Ben White. Instead, White is now having to operate on the right side of defence.
Saliba has received praise from Rio Ferdinand, Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville recently. Gunners goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale joined in on the praise on Monday by saying: “He [Saliba] has fit in really well. It is a credit to him that he has been put straight into the team. He is a bit of a Rolls-Royce with the way he moves and he has never seemed phased.
“He is still a young boy so still makes mistakes so at the minute it is either Ben (White), myself, Gabriel or Thomas Partey digging him out and he is digging other people out as well.
“That is the main thing at the minute, our mistakes aren’t leading to too many things and that is the sign of a team with good characters in and around that back five.”
Romano discusses William Saliba exit links
However, things could have been far different for the 21-year-old. After shining at Marseille last term, the French side were hoping to land him permanently. Romano calls their transfer proposal ‘something special’.
The Italian journalist also claims Champions League teams AC Milan and Barcelona looked into capturing Saliba, although these deals never went through.
“In the summer, Marseille wanted to try something special for Saliba,” Romano revealed during an interview with CaughtOffside.
“He was very happy on loan at Marseille, and there was a meeting with his agent, but for Arsenal there was no chance of a discussion – he was considered untouchable.
“Saliba was happy with this stance, as he could see he was a key part of the Arsenal project.
“There were other clubs interested – I can mention AC Milan, who looked at Saliba as an alternative to Sven Botman. There were never negotiations, they knew he was untouchable to Arsenal.
Barca’s admiration of defender emerges
“Barcelona also considered Saliba – he was an alternative in case they could not complete the Jules Kounde deal.
“Kounde was the priority for Barca, but Saliba was also on their list and they were prepared to make a proposal in case they never managed to sign Kounde. Still, they got their man and so they never made a formal approach for Saliba.
“In any case, I still don’t think there was a chance that Arsenal would let him go.”
As Romano states, Arsenal view the centre-half as being ‘untouchable’. With this in mind, they are aiming to agree a new contract with him.
He is in line for a new deal alongside impressive team-mates Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.
And Saliba has now confirmed contract discussions are underway between Arsenal and his agent. When asked about the issue, Saliba replied: “Yeah, we will see. They talk a little bit. We will see.”
Saliba has two years left on his current deal, so now is a good time for negotiations to begin. Arsenal don’t want to let him enter the final year of his terms as this could see the star leave for a reduced price.
The new contract will also give Arsenal the chance to hand Saliba a pay rise. This will reward the France international for his great displays this campaign.