Inside Saliba’s Arsenal conundrum and whether he could ever play for club again

William Saliba is at a crossroads in his career and will soon need an answer to the burning question of whether he still has a future at Arsenal.

The French starlet has been such a hit on loan at Marseille that they are already plotting a move to try and sign him permanently – and they won't be the only club in for him.

Marseille boss Jorge Sampaoli recently called him a "future great" of French football, and Saliba's form has led to pressure on Didier Deschamps to call him up to the national team.

The 20-year-old has started 12 of 13 games in Ligue 1 this season, helping an ultra-attacking, risk-taking side keep five clean sheets.

He's been so good that influential French newspaper L'Equipe even dedicated a front page to him, calling Saliba the "Rock of Marseille".

Yet despite all the plaudits, Mikel Arteta seems unmoved.

Quizzed about whether Saliba will be part of his squad next season, the Arsenal boss said: "It will depend on what happens with other players." Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Matt Spiro, Head of Ligue 1 global TV programmes and award-winning author of Sacre Bleu, is among many in France who cannot understand why Saliba has yet to play for the Gunners.

He told Daily Star Sport: "It's baffling. He wasn't Arteta's signing. Unai Emery was there when they signed him.

"But when Arteta says he's not ready for the Premier League, it irks a little bit because it's a line that's swallowed too easily.

"The Premier League is very intense but Wesley Fofana slotted in easily at Leicester. He's the comparison.

"Last season it was all the more baffling because we were watching David Luiz, Pablo Mari and Rob Holding play for Arsenal.

"If Arsenal had two or three exceptional centre-backs you could understand it. But last season I have no doubt Saliba could have done a good job for Arsenal.

"Now, Arteta says he needs to work on his game. But Ben White has things he needs to work on too. All I know is, he's ready for the Premier League."

Where does William Saliba currently rank among Arsenal's centre-half options? Let us know in the comments section.

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Saliba signed a five-year contract with Arsenal in 2019 and was tipped to be an immediate hit.

But he is still yet to make a single Premier League appearance for the north London side and is now out on his third loan spell after similar stints at Saint-Etienne and Nice.

In addition, Arsenal spent £50m to bring England defender White in this summer and then handed him Saliba's No 4 shirt, raising serious doubts about his prospects.

Earlier this season, Marseille team-mate Dmitri Payet said: "I don’t understand why he hasn’t played more for Arsenal." And many Gunners fans agree.

By September, no player under the age of 21 in Europe’s Big Five leagues had completed more passes successfully than Saliba.

The Bondy-born youngster is also averaging 1.5 tackles, 2.7 clearances and 0.9 intercepts per game.

But it was his performances against a Paris St-Germain side featuring Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar last month which really had scouts around Europe purring.

With Arsenal bigwig Edu in attendance, Marseille earned a 0-0 draw largely thanks to a brilliant saving tackle by Saliba on Mbappe late in the game.

French football expert Robin Bairner, a contributor to Goal.com, told Daily Star Sport: "It's worth noting that Marseille play in a very open style which makes it pretty difficult for defenders.

"New signing Luan Peres, for example, has struggled to fit into the style and has been carried to some extent by those around him, including Saliba. At times he's been doing the job of two.

"He's already a popular figure and when he has made mistakes – and there have been a couple of significant ones – these have been quickly forgiven due to him getting the team out of trouble on such a regular basis."

Saliba's Arsenal career got off to a rocky start when the Gunners refused him permission to play for St-Etienne in the French Cup Final in the summer of 2020.

After signing for Arsenal in a £27m deal, Saliba was immediately loaned back to the French club, but that agreement ran out just before the game.

And Saliba was deeply upset when a compromise could not be reached allowing him to play, leaving some to wonder whether a rift has developed between the player and Arteta.

Saliba himself then pushed for another loan this season, desperate for a full campaign of first-team football. And despite his form, there are no guarantees he'll ever play for Arsenal.

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Bairner said: "He's been very guarded over his future and doesn't seem to be wanting to give much away. In my opinion, he strikes me as being hopeful he has a future at Arsenal.

"Equally, though, I think he'd be happy staying at Marseille, where he's been well received and seems to feel at home."

Spiro, who interviewed Saliba earlier this season, said: "It's in Arteta's hands. Marseille would be very keen to sign him. I think they will work on that with him and his agent.

"His performances have been so eye-catching. I think Saliba still wants to play for Arsenal. The big question mark is does he have a future there under Arteta…"

That is a hundred million dollar question – and it's one that will have to be answered soon.

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