Arsenal contract clause summed up Saliba and Arteta’s relationship

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta reviews the Crystal Palace win

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William Saliba turned 22 this Friday and he can’t have dreamed his life could have gone any better to this point. The young centre-back is one of the first names on Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta’s teamsheet, with the Gunners top of the table and on course to win a first Premier League title since 2004. He’s also a fully-fledged France international, making eight appearances for his country. It all makes for superb reading, but it wasn’t that long ago that there were question marks over where his career would go.

Saliba was 18 when he joined Arsenal in 2019 while Unai Emery was still in charge and was immediately sent back out on loan to the club the Gunners signed him from, Saint Etienne.

Emery explained at the time that Arsenal faced stiff competition for the teenager and reiterated he was a signing for tomorrow, rather than today. “We’re delighted William is joining us,” said the Spaniard. “Many teams wanted him but he decided he wanted to come to us and be part of our future.”

Four months after Saliba signed for Arsenal, Emery was sacked with Arteta taking the reins.

Upon his return to Arsenal in 2020, Salbia made his first appearance for the club in a pre-season friendly against MK Dons but was subsequently left out of the Gunners’ competitive squads for the coming campaign and forced to play with the Under-23s.

His season in France had been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with Ligue 1 being cancelled while other divisions around the globe – including in the UK – continued.

It meant that Saliba only made 15 appearances while on loan and Arteta had decided before he’d even returned to London that he’d need another ‘transition year’ to be ready for Arsenal.

Saliba was reluctantly made to leave on loan once again, this time to Ligue 1 side Nice – a decision that didn’t go down well with the youngster who was hoping to get the chance to break into the Arsenal first team.

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Arteta explained his decision, telling the press: “Yes, well, we signed a big project that we had some issues with because he hasn’t played enough football in the last eighteen months. At that age and in the development phase he is at that is crucial.

“And I was very conscious when he came back when he didn’t do the step that he had to do before joining us that to start a relationship with a new manager, with a new club, with new team-mates in a situation where he is not having any game time it’s really difficult and I think it’s really damaging for the future.”

The Arsenal boss added: “He will come back for pre-season and he will be with us.

“Hopefully he will come back after playing a number of games and his performance raising and his development progressing in the right way. That’s why we made that decision.”

Saliba disagreed with his manager’s take and revealed his frustration upon leaving for Nice. “The coach immediately told me that I was not ready,” he said. “I would have at least liked to have had a chance to rediscover my rhythm. But this is football, it’s like that.”

The Frenchman later told RMC’s ‘Top of the Foot’ show: “It is clear that so much has changed in the last year. When I saw that the coach changed a lot changed for me too.

“In this year there has been a lot of change. He judged me on two-and-a-half matches. I would have liked for him to play me more. But he told me I wasn’t ready. I was waiting for him to give me a chance, but football is like that.

“When I initially came to Arsenal the league looked very good so I showed up to training and wanted to train on my own to show the coach I was ready. I am happy now, I want to play for Nice. The idea when you’re part of a team is a better feeling for me.”

Saliba performed well during his six months with Nice and there was talk that the unhappy defender could make the move permanent and put his – to that point – disastrous experience with Arsenal behind him.

But Arteta apparently had other ideas for the youngster because he ensured there was no clause in the defender’s contract for Nice to make the transfer permanent after his six-month spell.

It seemed despite the apparent bad blood between the pair in the press, Arteta clearly believed in his heart that Saliba did have a future at Arsenal – he just had to wait until the time was right.

Of course, Saliba was hoping the time was right upon his return to Arsenal from Nice, but again Arteta and Edu remained unconvinced that the centre-back could hack it in the Premier League and the Frenchman was sent back home to complete a third loan spell in Ligue 1, this time with Marseille.

This season would be make or break for Saliba, with rumours circling that the defender could leave the Emirates for good, despite Arteta clearly rating him as one for the future.

The Gunners boss splashed out £50million on Ben White in the same month Saliba left for Marseille and the Englishman immediately formed a solid partnership with Gabriel at the back for Arsenal.

But Saliba – who had already shown he was not averse to airing his dirty laundry in the press – apparently decided to change his approach and promised to knuckle down at Marseille.

He told the press: “You have to fight in a career. We must take that as a lesson to go further. It gave me a little slap to say: ‘You are nobody!’ You can be bought for 30 million euros, arrive in a club and we put you aside.

“I took this experience by being positive. I feed on it. I know what it’s like not to play for six months. Today, I want to play every game. It puts the ideas back in place.

“Before arriving at Arsenal, I said to myself: ‘Who am I going to play with?’ And then you are not even in the group in the Premier League. It gives you a good slap, it feels good. It brings you back to reality.”

Arteta, meanwhile, reiterated his stance that Saliba had a future at Arsenal, despite him not yet being given a fair chance to prove himself, and the multiple loan deals he was forced to undertake.

“He has to come back,” said the Gunners boss, in the face of claims that the defender could leave the club permanently. “He has the experience and has been in the necessary environment in order to be competitive with us.

“If he had stayed with us this year, where we had one Premier League game every week, with Ben White and Gabriel, he wouldn’t have had half the playing time he had with Marseille, that’s for sure.

“For his growth and what he can do next season, that wouldn’t have been good.”

It’s safe to say Saliba kept his word during his third and final loan spell away from Arsenal where he was named Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year and made the Team of the Year. He also helped Marseille qualify for the Champions League.

Upon his return to Arsenal this time, Saliba was handed the number 12 shirt and made his professional debut for the club on the opening day of the season, a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.

Saliba lined up at centre-back alongside Gabriel, while White was pushed out right.

The Frenchman put in a man-of-the-match display and immediately made the centre-back spot his own, with White now a permanent fixture on Arsenal’s right flank.

He has gone on to make a further 32 appearances for Arsenal, drawing parallels to such previous stars as Rio Ferdinand.

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