Loan Watch: William Saliba
William SALIBA of Nice during the Ligue 1 match between OGC Nice and Nimes Olympique at Allianz Riviera on March 7, 2021 in Nice, France. (Photo by Pascal Della Zuana/Icon Sport via Getty Images)

William Saliba signed for Arsenal back in 2019 from Ligue 1 side AS St. Etienne, for a reported fee in the region of £27million – a lucrative deal for a player who was just 18 years of age at the time.

Despite the player's young age, he was already touted to become a top-level centre-back, with some drawing comparisons to his fellow countryman Raphael Varane of Real Madrid.

  • High expectations

Along with the large transfer sum came a feeling of anticipation, as the eyes of Gunners fans lit up at the prospect of a world-class central defender joining their ranks.

Saliba joined at a time when the defensive side of Arsenal’s game was an area that needed considerable improvement.

But the young defender was shipped back to St. Etienne for a season, where he was able to flourish under a system that benefited from his dominant style of defending – Arsenal fans were left surprised by this decision, but the general consensus was that it was a good decision to allow him to develop further.

Saliba was a shining light in an otherwise fairly poor 2019/20 campaign for Les Verts, in which they finished in 17th place.

When the Frenchman returned to London at the start of the current season, Arsenal fans were excited to see what he could now bring to the first team, having spent a year playing senior football in France.

However, the staff at Arsenal had a different view, as they agreed to send Saliba out on loan again in January to Ligue 1 side OGC Nice.

  • Showing his quality

Since joining Nice, the defender has imposed himself on the French league, delivering performances that back up the £27million that Arsenal splashed out 18 months ago.

The 20-year-old has proven to head coach Adrian Ursea that he is worthy of a starting place in their squad, having played all but two Ligue 1 games since he joined.

Saliba has also shown his versatility at Nice, playing as both right and left centre-backs, while also playing as the most central of a back three on occasion.

The Frenchman is certainly in the mould of a ‘Mikel Arteta centre-back’, he is quick across the ground, exceptional with the ball at his feet and he has a fantastic football brain – all traits that the Spanish coach knows to be crucial in his system, in which playing out from the back is so important.

  • What next?

Arsenal fans will be hoping that Arteta and Saliba will be able to develop their coach-player relationship when it is time for the player to return in the summer, as he has all the right attributes to go on to become an important member of the squad.

The performances that the 20-year-old has been putting in will leave Arteta with plenty to think about when he makes his return.

Saliba is now one of eight Arsenal players to have ventured out on loan this season, with Mikel Arteta’s squad overhaul beginning to take shape. While the loanees look to hone their skills in new territory, their long-term vision will surely be focussed on making their way into the first team when they return.