Opinion: Are Arsenal right to loan William Saliba back to Saint-Etienne?
Photo: Getty Images - Alan Walter, Arsenal FC. 

Throughout this summer transfer window, Arsenal have been heavily linked with young French centre-back William Saliba, and a deal of around £27m has recently been announced. However, the deal sees Saliba return to the Ligue 1 club on loan for the 2019/20 season. With Arsenal's current situation, is this still a good piece of business?

Arsenal's defensive woes

Arsenal conceded a whopping 51 goals in the Premier League last season, the ninth-worst defensive record in the division. This is behind teams such as Newcastle, Leicester, and Everton, not to mention miles behind their top-four rivals that eventually finished in the Champions League places.

Arsenal also gave up an XGA (Expected Goals Against) of 54.4. This, considering that expected goals scored data shows Arsenal actually overperformed in front of goal and may not excel in this area as highly next season suggests that improvements defensively are a must.

Therefore, reinforcements in the back four are needed as well and the fact a near £30m investment in the defence may not actually be in the team for next season seems a waste.

The current options

One thing Arsenal can't really complain about is depth defensively, with players coming back from loan and signings over the past couple seasons, there are actually options competing for the Arsenal centre-back position.

But are they good enough?

The first is Shkodran Mustafi, a player that's amassed plenty of criticism from Arsenal fans over the past two seasons. After signing for around £35m in 2016, the German international looked to be a coup for the gunners after starting the 2016/17 season brilliantly.

Since then, however, too many defensive errors during the teams poor defensive run has seen supporters turn on Mustafi and many look to a new centre-back signing to potentially displace him in the starting eleven.

His partner for a lot of the season was Sokratis who captured the eye of the fans slightly more than his German counterpart in his debut season after signing from Borussia Dortmund for just over £17m in 2018.

The Greek number five will almost definitely be starting for Arsenal again next season, but at 31 it is tough to believe he will be performing at a top-level for the prolonged future.

Which fittingly leads us to the younger crop of defenders in the team. Rob Holding has a pretty high ceiling of potential and supporters will be longing for his return to the side after an awful ACL injury ended his season last December after many believed he was the team's best defender up to that point in the campaign. 

Calum Chambers has been hyped up by staff, players, and fans when he signed from Southampton back in 2014. His last two seasons have been on loan, though, and despite impressing at times for both Middlesbrough and Fulham (where he won their player of the season for last year), he was part of two relegated teams with big defensive issues.

This along with Chambers being tried and tested now as a defensive midfielder as well as a centre-back leaves a big question mark on what role he has to offer for Arsenal. 

Konstantinos Mavropanos is another young option at the back for the gunners at only 21. But with only 7 Premier League appearances to his name, first-team experience is crucial for him to improve as a player. A loan move looks to be the best option for him at this time.

Last on the list is captain Laurent Koscielny, simply because it appears the 33-year-old Premier League veteran will most likely not be at the Emirates next season after trying his best to force a move back to France, refusing to go to Arsenal's pre-season tour to the USA.

Is Saliba Ready?

At this stage, it is tough to tell how Saliba would cope in a top-six Premier League team due to his lack of experience in his current side.

The French starlet played 16 games in Ligue 1 last year but still nonetheless impressed in his short time spent in the spotlight. He averaged 5.17 interceptions per 90 and won 61% of his aerial duels. This stat shows off the 18 year-olds physical stature, as at 6 foot 4 he is able to be an intimidating force in the air, despite his age.

Saliba's stats suggest he is perhaps more a signing for the future, but it definitely makes sense to recruit him now before his price potentially skyrockets in the future. 


Overall, this situation is full of ifs and buts. Saliba could probably do with another season in France to grow in maturity and arrive at the Emirates ready to slot straight into the first team.

But this is only a viable option if Arsenal have a ready-made option to improve the defence for this season, otherwise, Saliba may walk into a side coming off another disastrous defensive campaign.