Arteta declares Arsenal home form 'crucial' in title race
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Arsenal defender William Saliba has become a key player under Mikel Arteta in his first full season with the first team at the Emirates. The Frenchman has developed an impressive centre-back partnership with Gabriel and the duo have been the bedrock of the Gunners’ defensive success that has guided the north London side to the top of the Premier League table.
Only Newcastle have conceded fewer goals than Arsenal, as Saliba has started every league game and chipped in with two goals and an assist in the process. His development has seen last season’s centre-back Ben White shift over to right-back and Takehiro Tomiyasu has had his minutes reduced.
However, not everyone expected Saliba’s rise in between his several loans in Ligue 1. After the Gunners spent £27million to sign him from Saint-Etienne in 2019, Saliba then returned to his former club on loan, helping the team reach the 2020 Coupe de France final.
The now-France international returned to Arsenal the following season when he was handed the number four shirt but was left out of the competitive squads for the coming season, a decision that Arteta admitted he regretted as Saliba was unable to secure another loan and continue his progress. He spent the second half of the season on loan at Nice, before temporarily leaving the Emirates for a third season in a row for Marseille where his reputation grew exponentially.
Though at some point during his time training with Arsenal prior to his return this summer, his team-mates were not impressed with the centre-back. ESPN have claimed that multiple players, who have since left the club, felt that Saliba was not good enough to make it at the club and dismissively described him as “League One-level” for his perceived poor positioning and tendency to jump into a tackle.
Now, fans and pundits are clamouring for the club to tie the 21-year-old down to a new long-term contract. Despite only recently breaking into the team, Saliba’s contract expires in 2024 after the club activated the one-year option in his current deal.
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After Gabriel Martinelli penned a new contract and with Bukayo Saka reportedly close to extending his stay in north London, club icon Ian Wright hopes that Saliba is next in line.
“But you look at him [Saliba] now, the way he has started the season and the way he plays, It’s fantastic,” Wright explained. “He’s a full international off the back of it. People talking about Saka signing a new deal, and we know how much we need Saka.
“I don’t think there was any real problems with that happening because of his connection with the club. But I think all the eggs need to go in the Saliba basket. We have got to make sure we keep this guy.”
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