Arsenal

Arsenal will benefit from William Saliba's Marseille loan whether he returns to the club or not

Harry Symeou
William Saliba was handed his first senior start for the French national side during the international break
William Saliba was handed his first senior start for the French national side during the international break / FRANCK FIFE/GettyImages
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For all the talk surrounding William Saliba and what his future might look like, it's easy to overlook the fact he is yet to play a competitive fixture in an Arsenal shirt.

So what's all the fuss about?

Signed from Saint-Etienne in the summer of 2019 for a fee of £27m, the Gunners faithful had high hopes for the now 21-year-old. So far, things haven't unfolded as expected.

As part of his initial signing, it was agreed the centre-back would be loaned back to Les Verts for a season before joining up with the Premier League giants the following summer, only he wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms.

The deal for Saliba was agreed prior to Mikel Arteta's arrival back at London Colney and it became clear pretty quickly the Spaniard was going to make his own mind up about the player, rather than feeling obliged to include him based on the vast amount of money his employers had parted with in order to recruit him.

But even the most ardent of Arteta supporters would have to admit the handling of his return was nothing short of shambolic. The decision to exclude him in the immediate term raised many eyebrows but the failure to arrange another loan deal and his subsequent exclusion from the registered group meant this promising young talent's participation was limited to training sessions for the first half of the season.

In the January that followed, Saliba was allowed to join Nice on loan for the remainder of the season but only after spending six months in the shadows, putting a huge strain on the relationship between the player and the London-based club.

The defender made no secret of his frustration, repeatedly hinting that all was not well between his people and the Arsenal management, prompting the question as to whether he'll ever feel at home in north London while Arteta is calling the shots. A strong season at Marseille, however, has seen him get his career back on track, forcing his way back into consideration and earning his first senior caps for France.

Judging by his displays in Ligue 1 during this past eight months, it's clear this latest loan spell has been positive, giving him the perfect platform upon which to develop his game further. He's playing with far more confidence and, perhaps most significantly in the Gunners boss' eyes, more maturity.

That's not to say he's been flawless, he himself has admitted struggles at various points in the campaign. But again, his openness to self-criticism and reflection highlights to those watching on a greater level of professionalism than that previously on display.

William Saliba
William Saliba has played 40 times for Marseille this season in all competitions / John Berry/GettyImages

It is unclear whether Saliba feels confident he can put his previous with Arteta behind him and whether he'd get the game time at Emirates Stadium he feels he deserves - casting doubt over whether he'll be re-integrated into the squad or sold on.

Despite the criticism Arteta and Arsenal have faced regarding their handling of the centre-back, whichever way things play out this summer, the Gunners stand to benefit.

They either welcome back a much more rounded defender than the one they loaned out in the summer, having made 40 appearances for Les Olympiens, who will add greater depth to their developing young squad.

Or, given his growing reputation, they will be able to command a fee similar to that they paid to sign him in the first place, boosting their transfer budget going into what will be another big summer in the context of the current rebuild.

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