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Gunner Thoughts

Whirlwind weeks for William Saliba

Athletes lives are scrutinized both and off the playing field. Some related, some needing to be separated out when we form our opinions. Let’s chat about Saliba’s last few weeks.

When you make a £30m move to Arsenal as a nineteen-year-old you probably expect the following year to be filled with more media attention than you’ve experience before. It’s not a guarantee, but in that moment, as a young prospect, you step into the spotlight which often brings with it a major change.

Life as a footballer comes with many aspects and obligations, all of which are scrutinized. Life on the pitch scrutinized down to the blade of grass, while life off the pitch comes with analysis of every word and every action.

What William Saliba won’t have expected was what the attention would be focused on. Without rehashing the whole conversation, Arsenal messed up massively early this season. Saliba expressed in a recent interview that he was judged by Arteta in “two and half matches” and whether that’s fair or not, time will tell, but the clubs inability to properly react by ensuring him a loan back in the Fall put in motion a slew of problems.

Multiple months of frustrations, questions, vague answers, and a narrative of him being held captive from his own development. In January, some of that was put behind has Arsenal sealed a loan move for him to head back the Ligue 1 with OGC Nice.

What’s been interesting in Saliba’s case — or frustrating — is that most everything he has done on the pitch as been good. Good doesn’t make Arsenal’s decision wrong, but his name isn’t reaching the headlines these days with criticism for his play.

His debut with Nice went poorly, but I wouldn’t put that down to him. There was one clearance from him in a later match that wasn’t complete and it cost them the goal, but like I said, everything is scrutinized down to the blades of grass and shape of player’s hips. This past weekend he was superb against Angers in a 3-0 win.

What’s grabbing headlines is coming off the pitch. Saliba has fielded quite a few interviews in this last month surrounding the situation at Arsenal and his answers have some people worried, others frustrated or angry with him.

There was nothing worse in sports than the campaign for athletes to “shut up and dribble” in the NBA. If you aren’t familiar with it you can look, but it was essentially the statement that athletes shouldn’t be participating in political messages or messages for change while playing, they should just keep their head down and do their work. Saliba’s situation is not like-for-like by any means, but there were plenty of responses to his interviews along the lines of, “he just needs to go to Nice, play well, and get better”.

From a playing perspective, that’s a bit obvious. That’s what all young stars need to do, but if he is feeling that aggrieved by the Arsenal situation, he definitely has that right and ability to voice those frustrations. As many people would point out, continuing to drive that message three or four times in a month is his prerogative, but it doesn’t mean it comes without potential backlash from Arsenal.

At this point, is he beating a dead horse? Suppose that is up to him and if he feels his message has been sent. Personally, I would say yes, and his team of people need to be shifting the line of questioning away from that or working with Saliba to answer differently. After all, he wouldn’t be the first athlete to give that canned response of, “I’ve spoken on that before. I’m here now to help this team win and to grow. That’s my focus.”

Just as that was sparking up and people were fretting about his future and the idea that he may be fed up with Arsenal, THE VIDEO surfaces. If you don’t know what video I’m talking about, I’m not about to describe it or link to it. If you know, you definitely know. If not, some day soon you will stumble upon it and you willl think, “Ohhhh, this is what he was talking about!”

Immediately, there were a lot of rash reactions. It’s the type of video that elicits some immediate thoughts, but I think people need to give themselves a second and breathe. Sever his contract over this? Sell him cheap? Over a video that looks bad? Honestly, it’s surfaced and it’s gonna spread and be held against him for mostly the rest of his career, but it doesn’t scratch the surface of “bad” in the grand scheme if what athletes have been caught doing.

I’m not trying to excuse the action. We should look at the person that leaked the video, because it wasn’t Saliba, but it’s the type of video you don’t even take or send to anyone. It’s a reminder of how dumb kids are and that fact that phones in these kid’s hands have a tendency to result in problems. It’s surfaced that the video is a few years old, well as adults know and kids need reminding, nothing you put out into the void is ever really gone.

He’ll have to deal with this, navigate the changing situation, and take whatever lumps come his way. The French Football Federation (FFF) is reportedly opening up an investigation into it all. Of course it’s not a good look for the player or the club, but it should be separated from the interviews completely.

Which brings us the major concern on hand, in my mind. Doing three or four interviews in a month to voice those frustrations certainly tells you that a he is a player harboring resentment. I think that’s understandable. He has been open about his frustrations over the first half of this season and Arsenal have them coming. How Arsenal react, how Saliba pushes on, and how the reunion goes will be a very deciding factor. I would hope Arsenal are frequently in contact with him about those plans over the coming months.

Arsenal paid £30m for Saliba, but also signed him to a very lengthy contract. To me that makes sense, and it doesn’t necessarily imply as much immediate playing time needed, compared a player who is older and only signs a 3 year deal. If Saliba returns next year and pushes for minutes, eventually wins himself a spot, the deal has plenty of time to still have reaped rewards. Arsenal got their hands on a prospect under the age of 20 at a smaller price by making the move, but how they build and take care of his success dictates the outcome and value.

It’s not off the a good start. Arsenal made a hash of things and will need to tread carefully to make amends — and making amends is in their best interest, even if Saliba doesn’t pan out. £30m is no small fee, so at the very least they need to recoup it for a player that others will be more than happy to accept into the fold. The video is really unfortunate and Saliba is dumb for having even given it the chance to see the light of day, but the interviews and continued drama off the video is much more worrisome if you’re Arsenal.

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