Will it ever happen for Wilo? The more I think about it, the more I tell myself it might not.
The French defender is yet to make his debut for the Club, two years after his arrival from Saint-Étienne, and won’t be sporting our colours until next summer, at the earliest.
He recently joined OGC Nice in Ligue 1, where he will spend the remainder of the season, after he failed to make the squads for the Premier League and the Europa League, two choices that left everyone baffled.
The praise was unanimous, when we won the race for his signature: he was dubbed the Mbappé of defenders, the latest hot property in Ligue 1 and the next Raphaël Varane, so everyone was excited to see him in action. The fact that he was immediately loaned back to Saint-Étienne for the whole season raised a few eyebrows but if, as it seemed, was the sine qua non condition to get him, so be it.
After all, it made sense for the 18yr boy to get another full season of regular football under his belt, before being confronted to the expectations of the Premier League, so we all accepted to patiently wait for his debut.
Some injuries, the pandemics and a bitter argument between the two Clubs, Arsenal and Saint-Étienne, saw his season cut short with a meagre 17 appearances in all competitions, two short of his maiden campaign, the year before.
Not exactly the break-through Arsenal and Saint-Étienne expected, not to mention the player himself, but we were finally ready to see William Saliba at the heart of our defence, in the first game of the current season, but instead William Saliba didn’t even make the squad, when we faced Fulham at Craven Cottage.
That should have rang a few bells, especially as a young defender, freshly arrived from Lille, was handed his full debut without much thinking from Mikel Arteta.There were reports of the player being unsettled by external factors, being homesick but nothing came out, officially, so we were left with a £ 30m signing unable to displace some of the worst defenders we had, in recent times. Another bell we decided to ignore.
If William Saliba was deemed not ready to play for the Arsenal, why didn’t we loan him out at the beginning of the season?
Why did we choose to humiliate him by leaving him out of the Premier League and Europa League squads?
No matter what angle we choose, it’s difficult to draw any conclusion other than William Saliba is not good enough.
If he were just another 19 year old promising player, we wouldn’t care that much about his current struggles, which are pretty common for players attempting to take the step from academy to senior football; if our defenders were really good, it would make sense that he struggles to get into the team but it’s not the case.
He’s meant to be the Mbappé of defenders, the next Raphaël Varane and he was signed to be a cornerstone of our new defensive line.
His rivals, today, are David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi, two pretty bad defenders whose contracts will expire in six months and another two average-to-good defenders whose future is well up in the air – Rob Holding and Calum Chambers.
How can William Saliba be so bad not to challenge them for a place in the 25-men squad?
Could it be that he is actually worse than what we have today?
I really want William Saliba to be back next summer and “do a Gabriel” by cementing his place right away, have a successful career and be the defender we want him to be but he’s trajectory, to date, isn’t suggesting any of that.
I struggle to understand why he played some U21 and U23 football before joining Nice, what was there for him to learn?
He could have played some Europa League football, at least, and follow in the footsteps of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and other youngsters; he could have played in the Premier League and take advantage of featuring behind closed doors, with less pressure – that would have been a unique opportunity for his development.
Also, why did we loan him to Nice, of all Clubs? He knows the country, he knows the league, he knows his opponents: what is there for him to learn? How will that help him to adjust to the expectations of the Premier League?
At OGC Nice, William Saliba will be playing alongside inexperienced central defenders like Pelmard (20), Robson Bambu (23) and Daniliuc (19) and the only player he could learn something from, Dante, is the one he’s tasked to replace after the Brazilian damaged his knee ligaments a couple of months ago. The move could have made some sense if Patrick Vieira was still Nice’s head-coach, at least William Saliba could have learned a lot about the Arsenal while playing regularly, but Paddy was sacked last month and the new coach, the Romanian Adrian Ursea, switched from a back-four to a back-three, a tactical twist that won’t be helping William Saliba at all, given how Mikel Arteta decided to take the opposite path.
I struggle to see any logic in this and I struggle to see whether William Saliba has a future at the Club. I’m not blaming the player, at all, if anyone I would blame the Club because the more you think about this whole deal, the more it stinks of bad recruitment: he came at a hefty price, the Club built insane expectations about him and mishandled him badly, affecting his confidence and self-esteem.
On top of that, the Club’s image comes out of this unwanted circus heavily damaged, as perfectly summarized by French journalist Matt Spiro, on Twitter.
Well done to Nice for signing a top young defender in William Saliba. To suggest he ‘isn’t ready for Premier League’ is disingenuous at best – and if you look at some of the guys who have been deemed ‘ready’ by Arsenal, it’s laughable— Matt Spiro (@mattspiro) January 4, 2021
To conclude, I do hope William Saliba’s career at the Arsenal will be a successful one but we’d better brace ourselves for a different outcome, come next summer. All the hints are there for everyone to understand that something is not working, something bigger than football: whether it is a mentality problem, home sickness or whatnot, it will blow out at some point.
A wise man once said that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough to play, so inexperience might not be the issue here.
Thirty-something Italian, currently in Switzerland. Gooner since mid-ninties, when the Gunners defeated my hometown team, in Copenhagen. Twelve years ago I started my own blog (www.clockenditalia.com) after after some experiences with Italian websites and football magazines. Debate, don’t insult or you’re out.