Paul Merson has speculated that Arsenal defender William Saliba could potentially be the subject of “some conflict” when he arrives to the Emirates Stadium in the summer, as reported in the Daily Star.
The Gunners beat Tottenham Hotspur to the signing of the 18-year-old centre-half in the summer in a £27million deal from Saint-Etienne (BBC Sport).
However, Arsenal had to loan Saliba back to the Ligue 1 club for the entirety of the 2019-20 season as part of the deal.
Saliba has missed a large part of the campaign through injury but impressed on his return against Monaco at the end of January and has returned to the starting XI (Transfermarkt).
Since the Saliba deal was made, Arsenal replaced Unai Emery with Mikel Arteta, who bolstered the defensive ranks in January with Pablo Mari and Cedric Soares on loan from Flamengo and Southampton respectively.
“(Arsenal) need a clear-out, and (Arteta) needs to build the spine of a team,” Arsenal legend Merson wrote in the Daily Star. “All the top teams are strong down the middle. But Arsenal are not.
“The defence is going to take time. He’s brought two defenders in with Cedric and Pablo Mari, and he’s got William Saliba coming in from France in the summer.
“Part of me wonders whether he wanted Mari because Saliba isn’t his signing, and there could be some conflict there. But he’s made good signings.”
Arsenal had pressing defensive issues they needed to sort out urgently in January and Arteta did so with the signings of Mari and Cedric, while Saliba won’t be arriving until the summer.
It’s far too early even to speculate whether there could be any conflict once the 18-year-old arrives at the Emirates simply because the deal was done under a previous manager.
If anything, given the player’s young age and arrival from a different country, the likelihood is he’ll be given more support to help him acclimatise to the huge change of scenery.
Saliba is clearly a talented player, impressing in Ligue 1 despite his young age, and in the off-season, when Arteta will be able to put together his blueprint for 2020-21, one would think he would welcome the addition of such a high-calibre youngster.
And even though the Mari deal contains an option to sign permanently, the Gunners defence is in need of an overhaul anyway, so there shouldn’t really be an issue with, say, having the Spaniard as first-choice and Saliba as an understudy for the time being.