Arsenal legend Martin Keown has been left baffled by the Gunners’ decision to loan William Saliba back to Saint-Etienne for the entirety of the 2019-20 season, in conversation with talkSPORT.
The Gunners beat Tottenham Hotspur to the signing of the teenage centre-back last summer in a £27million deal (BBC Sport), but loaned him back to the Ligue 1 club for the entirety of the 2019-20 season as part of the deal.
Saliba missed a large part of the campaign through injury but impressed on his return against Monaco at the end of January and duly returned to the starting XI prior to the football suspension and eventual premature end to the Ligue 1 season.
Indeed, the 19-year-old helped his side reach the French Cup final for the first time in 38 years in early March, and as such, excitement is palpable amongst many Arsenal fans regarding his arrival at the Emirates Stadium once his loan stint is up.
However, Keown feels Saliba should have been playing for the Gunners this term given the issues they’ve been having in defence.
He added: “There’s an awful lot of work to be done in there [defence]. There was the defender from Saint-Etienne, William Saliba, who they paid £27million for but was loaned back again.
“I couldn’t quite work that out because now I’m being told he’s world-class. Never mind if he’s world-class, if he was Premier League class it would have been good enough because that was an area of concern.”
Saliba has shown he’s a cut above in ligue 1 despite his young years and much is expected of him when he eventually links up with his new club.
Though the loan back was part of the deal, you have to wonder whether Arsenal could have possibly paid a bit more to acquire his services right from the off.
That said, maybe another year in a familiar environment was just what Saliba needed to fully establish his credentials – something that may not have happened had he linked up with the Gunners last summer.
Also, given the tricky season Arsenal have had – which included a managerial chance – it’s probably best that he wasn’t involved.