Arsenal Perspective: Why Saliba will be worth the wait

William Saliba is Worth the Wait by AI

William Saliba was not registered for the Europa League and it has caused some ruckus among the fanbase. This was on top of the coaching decision to slowly introduce him into the Premier League. Saliba has played well for two consecutive Ligue 1 seasons, the argument goes, he is surely good enough to play against the likes of Fulham and if not Fulham, then Rapid Wien in the Europa League.

That view is all well and true. Saliba indeed has good experience against top-level opposition. In fact, his availability for a domestic cup final against PSG in his last season for Saint Etienne caused some contention between the two clubs. Saint Etienne wanted him to play against PSG. He was considered good enough to play against PSG.

Well, let’s look at the situation in another perspective. Sheffield United have a young, well-rated 18-year-old centerback named John Smith. John Smith made ten appearances in his debut season for Sheffield in all competitions, including the FA Cup and Carabao. John Smith is a big lad with enough pace to not look like a slow duck and decent with the ball at his feet. Smith plays in a back three at Sheffield with two older professionals. It is a defensive setup with adequate protection for the inexperienced young lad.

John Smith, because of his decent performances and his impressive physical qualities attract the interest of a Big English Club. Big Club wants John Smith. Sheffield United tell big club that John Smith is their future at centerback and a likely England international in the future. It will take a lot of money for them to let Smith go. Big Club say they will pay whatever Sheffield wants. Sheffield says 35 million euros and Big Club brings it down to 27 million euros.

The negotiations begin to generate media interest. Big Club has a lot of central defenders in their primes — though all of them are not worldbeaters. They are looking for more top quality in their defensive ranks. John Smith is someone they think can reach that level someday. They pay the money and let John Smith remain at Sheffield for one more season. Smith, only 18, and with less than ten appearances in the league has more chances of playing with Sheffield than with the Big Club as it is. Fans are pleased to have acquired a talent like Smith. He looks like someone who has everything it takes to go to the top level. His tackling is clean, his passing is alright, his anticipation is a bit mature and he is not flat-footed for a 6’4 footer. In fact, if you were to watch him without knowing his age, most couldn’t determine that he was just 18. Fans are also a bit concerned by the size of the fee. 27 million is a lot to pay for an 18-year-old with a few appearances in the league. But they are hopeful because Big English Club is rich enough and also because they suspect that the fee is representative of how well the club’s recruiters (slightly dodgy) view the lad.

John Smith racks up 15 more appearances for Sheffield United in all competitions the next season. Big Club fans watching the lad are impressed with the quality he shows but are a little bit disappointed that he didn’t play more, despite playing in a back three. Was he not good enough? He was expected by Big Club fans to feature more even if Sheffield were playing with two centerbacks. 15 apps in a back three was not good enough. Some of them rationalize this by concluding that John Smith was only 19 and was injured at some points through the season.

At Big English Club, there is some sort of a defensive crisis. Many of their options are injured and struggling for fitness and form. The available ones were not very good, to say the least. Whether this was a structural problem or a matter of poor individual quality, nobody could say. There were certainly no worldbeaters in the defensive ranks, for sure. Reinforcements would be welcome.

John Smith arrives at Big Club as a 19 year old with less than 30 appearances for Sheffield United across two seasons. Smith, with his burly physique, calmness and deep voice, has solidified his standing as a top prospect. Fans believe that he could be the answer. They want him to take one of the two central spots.

In preseason, Smith was once again decent enough. Fans are excited with how he could perform for them. Then disaster struck. Smith’s mother dies and the teenage boy is thrown into grief. In the midst of that, a global pandemic occurs and Smith is forcibly separated from the rest of his family. It’s a disaster for the lad.

All through this, Smith continues with a professional attitude for Big Club. He continues to appear at training every day. His coach is impressed by his attitude but clearly respects the impact of the tragedy on the boy. He needed to be protected. And that was what his coach was going to do, damn all the hopes of fans who want nothing else but to see their wonderkid play.


Perhaps this has put Saliba’s scenario in a clearer perspective. The boy is only 19 and grieving in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want him to play for one of the biggest sportclub in the world until I am damn sure the boy has had some emotional respite from his experience. Sporting-wise, for all his hype and quality, Saliba only has 28 appearances (not starts!) for Saint Etienne, who are a lower Ligue 1 club. It would be odd for him to suddenly amass anything close to the same playing opportunity at a top club in the Premier League like Arsenal.

Caglar Soyuncu was at Leiceister City since 2018, bought for 20 million euros and received only 6 appearances for Leiceister City. Only six! He was 22 years old as at then. Saliba is only 19.

Easing a new player in is important, especially when they are young, at a big club and if there are options ahead of them. Add Saliba’s personal tragedy to the list and you have so many reasons for him not to play yet.

Personally, I think Saliba is destined for the top. He’s extraordinary for a teenage defender and if he needs the entire season off to be the player we want him to be then so be it. I will remind you again, if Saliba doesn’t make much of an appearance this season, he is no transfer failure. He’s just a young boy finding his feet at a big club. Gabriel Maghalaes also had a slow start for Lille at a similar age — look where he is now!

Agboola Israel

Tags William Saliba


  1. Saliba is only 19yo….

    he needs regular games to build up his confidence and experience

    hes better off going on a loan for a season or two

  2. wow yeah easing him in through not selecting him for the EL squad how brilliant of Arteta..
    i just read that Arteta feels “bad” for Saliba.. This kind of interviews from Arteta are annoying to be honest he should tell the truth or avoid the topic but not play the nice guy when he didn’t select a 19 year old CB and can’t give him chances

    1. I think he said that he was honest in that interview. He had a choice to make based on the information available to him and who they expected back via injuries.

      To me he has owned up to a mistake, but only because that mistake has come around to bite him in the arse.

      1. IF it was honest then it was a stupid move from Arteta to include Mari and not Saliba as Saliba should surely play more and be the priority and not some dude from brazil whose transfer is still questionable, even without the injury mistake of Mari it’s surely a mistake to not include a 27 mio 19 year old CB in the EL squad

  3. All said and done we do understand the emotional aspect of Saliba. If that is the genuine reason for his exclusion than it is understandable why Saliba is out of the squad. But please do not give the excuse of age and number of games played. There is this defender from Leicester, I forget his name, who is also of the same age as Saliba also from France who is playing regularly for Leicester. Also Barcelona has Ansu Fati who is only 17 and who is their shining light. They have 3 more players in the playing list of 18 who are below the age of 19. So do not give the reason of age, Sancho and Mbaappe shone very early. If it is the emotional aspect than we all support Saliba. If it is something than I think MA is making a mistake by not playing him.

    1. and even with the emotional aspect I dont understand how it should help him to not be included in the EL squad.. loaning back to France? That would be understandable as he would be in his town/country but how is it better for his mental health to just train and not play in the EL?
      As it stands its a really stupid move from Arteta

  4. Quick question, did his mom die before or during Arsenal’s preseason? If it was before, then it throws the excuse of emotional trauma to the gutter as he featured for arsenal in preseason even after his mom had died. And he played really well. Unless I’m missing something, I don’t see the point of the article.

    1. Ornstein was reporting back in May about a bereavement, Kstix..
      Yet he played the first half of our preseason game against MK Dons in August…. weird….🤷‍♀️

      1. It’s super weird Sue. Why are the people that are backing Arteta’s decision on this (such as the writer of this article) failing to see this? What emotional trauma?. The guy is good. He played well against mk dons and suddenly he doesn’t make the Europa league team at the very least? That’s a really questionable and unwise decision by Arteta who yesterday claimed he felt sorry for him. How would he put an injury prone defender in Mari ahead of Saliba. As it is, I’m not an Ozil fan, but these types of decisions are suddenly making me think if the ozil decision was actually for footballing reasons like I was led to believe.
        I’ll for now just try to be patient with Arteta but more of these types of school boy errors in the future and he’ll be losing a fan.

        1. I’m totally perplexed by it if I’m honest! I wonder what Saliba himself must be thinking!
          I’m with you on your last paragraph, Kstix, totally!! 👍

  5. I really despise the age argument if that is the reason for holding him out. If you are good enough you are old enough, simple. Saka was younger than Saliba, so was Jack, Cesc also. If it is for performance reasons, then say so, but full stop on this “he’s only 19” silliness. Ask yourself, would you rather play Xhaka in midfield because Cesc is only 17? would you rather play Willian on the wing because Saka is only 18?
    Say Saliba isn’t up to performance standards, that is fine, but let’s leave the 19 age out of it.

  6. It made no sense to not register him for Europa. He’s a 30mill investment and we are putting Mustafi, and flipping Pablo Mari in the squad instead. Still don’t even now why we signed Pablo Mari. Does anyone? C’mon now….

  7. Al, I’m glad I realised half way thrugh your article that you were, in fact, saying what I can agree with. Initially , it appeared that you were calling for his inclusion pretty soon, even maybe too soon.

    Fair enough to use John Smith as a simile in CERTAIN ways, but other than THAT his inclusion was pointless, simply because he is a completely different person and comparing two players, simply because they are of similar age and possibly in build too, is as daft as comparing a cat to a cauliflower.

  8. Is it just me but I think we are playing terrible football under arteta, it’s so boring and predictable,
    Hope he gets it right cause we already have lost 3 games this season and wouldn’t be surprised if we lost Sunday as well..

  9. Idiotic decisions by MA will cost us. Why leave Saliba out of the UEFA cup registered players? While registering Mustafi who is going next year, Willock n other few useless players. Now he feel sorry and thinks he has made mistake. It looks like he has bite onto something more then he can chew.

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