How Saliba’s Nice loan sets him up to be David Luiz’s Arsenal replacement

Robin Bairner
How Saliba’s Nice loan sets him up to be David Luiz’s Arsenal replacement

William Saliba enjoyed a profitable loan spell at Nice from Arsenal, where he is set to return in the summer.

While Jean-Clair Todibo is set to be retained by the Ligue 1 club after a loan from Barcelona, such a deal with Saliba was rarely envisaged. After all, there was no purchase clause in his loan contract.

READ MORE: Saliba, Lingard, Morata and the top 10 loan signings of the season in Europe

Arsenal will benefit from that, as the 20-year-old centre-back may well have been signed permanently by Nice had the option been available to them.

Certainly, there was a period when it seemed it might be a possibility. Relations were strained between Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Saliba when the youngster arrived in France, having effectively been frozen out of the Gunners’ plans.

‘I arrive as a boss’

He immediately won praise with the manner in which he equipped himself in Ligue 1, helping to stabilise a defence that was in a positively wretched state.

His leadership qualities were impressive – as he promised from the outset they would be.

“Even if I’m young, I arrive as a boss,” Saliba explained mere hour after joining Nice from Arsenal. His confidence was replicated on the field, having benefitted from a year of first-team football in the past with Saint-Etienne at Ligue 1 level.

Head coach Adrian Ursea commented: “When you’ve got a young player who arrives at a new squad an exudes this personality from day one, it’s very encouraging for the future.”

Saliba at Nice

Appearances20
Minutes1800
Goals1
Assists0
Aerial duels won60%
Duels won62.5%
Successful passes91%
Errors leading to goals2
Man of the match1
Average rating6.8
Source: FootballCritic. Ligue 1 only.

Saliba was not flawless, of course – there were errors that led to goals against both Nimes and Rennes – but he rarely put a foot wrong otherwise.

Indeed, he finished with a flourish, scoring a late winning goal against Lyon that saw OL’s hopes of Champions League football demolished. For a product of great rivals Saint-Etienne, that would have been a particularly satisfying moment.

What does the future hold for Saliba at Arsenal?

Certainly, his loan should have enhanced his first-team prospects, particularly as David Luiz will leave the club.

Arteta, though, has been tight lipped on the youngster.

“When we finish the season, we will sit down and discuss the roles of every member of the squad and how they can fulfil that role and he’s our player so he’ll be back here for sure. After that, we will make a decision based on the agreement of the role that each player is going to have in the squad,” he said.

Perhaps the errors that gifted away goals continue to nag at Arteta, who knows that Arsenal centre-backs will come under additional scrutiny for making such mistakes, but Saliba’s overall standard of play on loan was strong, and there is little doubt that he returns to Arsenal a player who has benefitted greatly for being back in Ligue 1 at Nice.