Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has explained that William Saliba is yet to play for the Gunners because the club is trying to protect the 19-year-old, who is still adapting to his new surroundings and suffered with injuries last season.
Arsenal completed the capture of Saliba, worth up an estimated £27m over time, in the summer of 2019 but allowed the player to stay on loan with former club Saint-Etienne for another 12 months.
The young centre-back played just 17 games in all competitions, largely because of a hamstring problem and later a broken foot. However, he returned to fitness and had started seven consecutive Ligue 1 games by the time the French season was abandoned amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Saliba was handed the number four shirt over the summer, pointing to a potentially significant role this season. But having been an unused substitute for the Community Shield against Liverpool at Wembley last month, he is yet to feature in a Premier League matchday squad.
His only action of any kind so far this season came last week as he captained Arsenal’s Under-23 side against Brighton in a Premier League 2 fixture.
Given that a number of other centre-backs have been sidelined with injury, his absences at first-team level have surprised Arsenal fans. However, Arteta insits he is being careful and biding his time.
“I think William is doing really well. He is adapting to the country, adapting to our club. We have to bear in mind that he had a really challenging season last year with the amount of injuries that he had,” the Gunners boss is quoted as saying by the Daily Mirror.
“But he is a player that is going to be really important in our future, things sometimes take some time and we have to respect that.”