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Why Arsenal Supporters Should Just Calm Down About William Saliba


Rio Ferdinand. Playing for West Ham, still 2 years away from his move to Leeds. Virgil Van Dijk. Just establishing himself at Groningen. John Terry. Had played just 6 league games for Chelsea.

What do these situations have in common? All of these soon to be remarkable players were just 20 years old at the time.

Guys, we need to calm down about William Saliba.

David Ornstein has exclusively revealed this evening (Friday 2nd July) that William Saliba is likely to head back out on loan for a third year in a row, this time to French club Olympique Marseille – and you can only imagine some of the takes I’ve read. To one person, it’s enough to want Arteta gone. 

To another, they think Saliba is our best defender.

And another reckons it could be the biggest blunder they have ever seen from a football club. 

I’m being slightly facetious, we all love a reactionary take… but come on.

In the age of instant gratification, where by this point in writing the article my attention span is already wavering as I wonder what’s going on on Twitter (Locatelli bid, get in), patience is by no means at the top of anyone’s agenda; and with William Saliba, it feels like patience is running thinner than the hair on Pep’s head. As much as I just want to tell everyone just to calm the f*ck down and leave it there, fair is fair, so let’s break down some of the main reasons people have a problem with this.

We spent £30m on him.

“We” did, but Arteta and Edu didn’t. It was under the old regime headed up by Raul Sanllehi, and I think we’re slowly building a picture that perhaps, that summer, the fees weren’t totally fair for a number of reasons… and not all of them above board. 

I suppose this argument is that, with such a big investment, surely we should be at least seeing what we’ve bought, which is understandable. But coaches have different requirements that they have for different positions, and Arteta clearly just doesn’t think he’s ready for those yet – and it’s his head on the chopping block, so let’s just see. We all want the team to do well, of course – but he sees them in training, he is the professional football manager with co-signs from Guardiola, Wenger and Pochettino. I am a man writing an article next to a dusty fan. I’ll trust his take on a player over mine, and certainly Dave on Twitter who just wishes Tony Adams was his dad. It’s not to say we shouldn’t critique decisions and form our own opinions, but we must remember our limitations as fans in terms of access to information.

As for the fee as some kind of quality mark – I could move into a house with a £900k painting on the wall – it doesn’t mean I want to keep it, everyone has different taste and requirements. Should we just play people based on their transfer fee? In which case, Pepe would start over Saka every week, and Elneny over Smith-Rowe. 

We have to create a cohesive, balanced team, and at the moment that is based on Arteta’s vision, who I think it’s hard to deny is a talented coach, regardless of your thoughts on his management. Absolutely go ahead and judge Arteta and Edu on the decisions they’ve made that they’ve got wrong, but blaming the current regime for the outlay and weaponising that as a reason that Saliba to play is just baffling.

The only constant is the Kroenke family.

Ok… but we have to give him some sort of chance.

Arteta’s job security is thin. The man nearly got fired in November/December, and if it weren’t for the lovely low-socked antics of Emile Smith-Rowe, we could be on a very different timeline. Why would you risk your career on what would most likely be a CB pairing of Gabriel at 23 and Saliba at 20, who have 1 (one) season of Premier League experience between them? You wouldn’t. Squad building takes time, and the right blend of experience, youth and skill is the goal. There’s already a whole load of young players in this side – I’m already worried we’re losing dressing room leaders like Xhaka, Luiz and Lacazette.

With Arsenal out of Europe, all it takes is two poor performances in the two cups and Arsenal  would play 40 games in total this season. If Saliba stayed at the club, how many of those would he start? A liberal estimate would be between 0-5. Defences rarely change mid match too, to keep consistency. He’s much better getting regular football somewhere so he can become the next Maldini there’s no doubt he will be. There’s no examples of players not living up to potential… right? Right guys?

“But, but, Wesley Fofana!!”

Fair point – but Leicester have conceded 20% more goals since he came into the side. With inexperience comes risk, and that’s what he brings, talented as he is. He also wasn’t meant to play as much as he has, covering for Leicester’s injury crisis, and he’s next to Jonny Evans, an experienced elder figure, which we don’t have.

Name me one top club with a 20 year old Centre Back who plays week in, week out. You can’t. We also have Rob Holding, Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Gabriel and possibly Ben White all competing for minutes – it’s a very crowded position.

He’s our best defender.

I’m convinced people who say this have never watched him play 90 minutes. Throw data viz at me all you want. Throw heat maps. Throw compilations at me set to awful trap beats. We. Don’t. Know. That. You’ve never seen him. He’s literally played one game for us, against MK Dons.

We’re messing up his career.

Football is a results based business. If we improve this season, Saliba comes back next season and integrates all the better for it… no one will remember this. Also – his first season was always a loan back, the season after he didn’t get to play a full season because of Covid, and supposedly last year Rennes messed him and us around so he didn’t get to go out until January… so is it really only “us”?

So what is this really about?

Saliba is undoubtedly a talented boy, and has a bright future if all goes to plan. Arsenal fans, more than most, have been subject to calamitous individual errors. Saliba was supposed to fix that. A Rolls Royce ball playing defender at 6’4” with bags of talent and a huge reputation, signed in the glow of a France World Cup win. Amazing. But let’s be clear – it was never fair on Saliba to expect a 19 year old to come in and complete our defence. Apart from maybe Cannavaro and Maldini, two of the greatest ever to do it, there is almost no one in history who has ever done that at that age.

I think there is an aesthetic to Saliba people love, and I see that and connect with it too. But there is a certain level of fetishisation of players in certain positions of certain statures and from certain countries which has its dark side. Ask yourself… if this was a Japanese CB we signed from the Greek 1st division with a name that can’t be easily anglicised, someone without Saliba’s look… would there be such a clamour around a loan move like this?

It’s also about outsmarting the market. Saliba was meant to be the start of us not being idiots post Ivan Gazidis. If he’s THAT good and Arsenal are idiots who don’t mind loaning him… where are Real Madrid? Where are Barcelona? Juventus? Why is he not in the French squad, or even the U21 team? Bayern just signed a young French CB for big money… it wasn’t Saliba. We might have to accept that we didn’t outsmart the market on this one, or so far the jury is still out if we did.

That all said, we have to control the narrative better regardless. This amount of speculation is not healthy. How hard is it for Arteta to come out in a press conference with absolute clarity, heap praise on Saliba and end the doubt over if he has any future at Arsenal? Even if it’s not true, it protects the asset, and quietens the doubters.

Anyway – I realise I’m moaning about people moaning. Ironic.

At least they didn’t write a whole bloody article about it.

Alexander Moneypenny (@DiffKnock)

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