Having run the rule over the returning William Saliba this pre-season, Mikel Arteta believes that his impressive displays justify the reasoning to send him out on loan last season.
The Frenchman spent a third successive campaign on loan in Ligue 1 last term, following his stints with Saint Etienne and Nice with a year at Marseille, which saw him flourish over 50 appearances as he won the division’s Young Player of the Year and earned his first full international caps.
Since arriving back at London Colney, the 21-year-old has gone on to feature regularly for us during pre-season and has caught the eye of many – most importantly Arteta’s who feels that his development has now made him a viable option for selection.
Speaking ahead of the game against Crystal Palace, the boss said: “I am really happy with how he’s adapted. Obviously, it’s always something that you have to see, spending a year away from here in a completely different league. But playing the amount of minutes that he played and the way you could see he was growing and developing, he gave us a lot of reasons that he could be the player that we need.
“In the last few weeks, he’s given us every reason to believe that we made the right decision loaning him for a year, because he now looks ready to go.”
Arteta has indicated that when they landed the defender aged just 18 in July 2019, the plan was always to allow him to develop elsewhere initially so he could build up experience before being thrown into the Premier League.
When the opportunity came to send him to Marseille, who were competing not just at the top of Ligue 1 but also in the Europa League, he wanted to allow Saliba to take another step forward in his progression despite it again being away from Emirates Stadium, but Arteta feels we could now really reap the benefits.
“In our opinion – it’s not just my opinion – he needed that exposure,” he added. “You don’t see players at 18 or 19 years old playing at their highest level at top clubs; it just doesn’t happen.
“We, as a club, a few years ago made a big investment because we believed he could be a player who could make a significant impact in our team and we believe again that the best way to do it is to give him a pathway that we couldn’t give him here, especially because we didn’t have Europe so he wouldn’t play so many minutes or very few minutes. Now we have a very different context and hopefully that will prove that for him and for the club it was the right decision.”
With all that in mind, Arteta is delighted that Saliba’s season in the south of France was a success, and feels vindicated that the decision to send him out on loan rather than keep him at the club proved to be the best thing for the youngster.
Reflecting on what could have happened had he stayed with us last term, Arteta added: “We don’t know because maybe he would have picked up an injury, maybe he wouldn’t play and maybe we could have sent him on loan and it wouldn’t work. He could have picked up an injury like he did in the first loan that we had. That’s football – it’s so complicated.
“But we believed and he believed that it was the right thing to do and we worked together and that’s the most important thing. Now we are together again and the relationship continues.”
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