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Saliba Could Walk Among Giants, Just Have to Keep Him Around Now

This kid could one day walk amongst Arsenal defending giants, the club just need to keep him now

When Saliba walked back through the London Colney doors, again, this time after completing his loan with Marseille, many Arsenal fans had high hopes that that would be the “loan period” of his early career finished.

I mean, it had to be right? A good portion of his initial contract with Arsenal had been spent, he had navigated three loans with three different teams, and the kid had just been awarded Ligue 1’s Young Player of the Year award after an outstanding campaign.

Sure, there was some anxiety or nerves at the time surrounding the idea of him being sold by Arsenal, in favor of Ben White and Gabriel. And some fear that after his immensely successful loan he would carry a grudge and use his earned leverage and ability to pursue an array of large European clubs as suitors in order to stick it to Arsenal for “not believing in him”.

But, in retrospect, and as an opinion I have long held, the idea that Saliba was entirely out of the loop, not a part of Arteta’s plans, or carrying a hatred for Mikel that could not be repaired, seemed at least slightly overblown. A Young Player of the Year award from France’s top division certainly answers a lot of question in regards to his skill and the usage of his loans, but it seemed clear from the start of this summer that Arsenal were set on integrating him into the squad and giving him his chance.

Fast forward to today, just three Premier League appearances into this time, and you are looking at a player that is fast becoming an Arsenal fan favorite. Watching his skills on the ball, his composure, positioning, and command of the pitch almost makes a viewer forget he’s only turned 21 back in March.

Like a player with 150 caps to his name, he looks entirely confident and in charge, which served to obliterate any niggling fears fans had surrounding his ability to transition his success with Marseille to the level of success expected — or at least desired — around North London. No moment encapsulated the faith and love that Saliba has earned from fans more than when Saliba was cheered for and urged on after heading in an own goal to put Leicester within one.

It’s easy to understand why fans were more than willing to forgive and support. Here’s just a few of his impressive stats to start the season:

  • 160/172 completed passes — 3rd most completed passes on the team (Behind Gabriel and Zinchenko)
  • 93% pass accuracy — highest in the team (excluding Nketiah’s 12/12 statistic)
  • 926 yards of progressive passing — 3rd most (Behind Ramsdale and Gabriel)
  • 53.8% successful pressures — most on the team
    • Context: Saliba is 7/13 which puts him equal to Gabriel on three fewer pressures. One note of success for Saliba has been his ability to read a situation, measure it, and make the smart successful play.

Is it too early to say he is locked-in at Arsenal’s right center back? Maybe. With Tomiyasu coming back to full fitness, competition between him and Ben White, and maybe subsequently White and Saliba are likely to heat up. It’s one of the best, new problems this Arsenal team can give themselves. However, it’s probably not to0 early to start to talk about the fact that Arsenal need to be pursuing his signature on a contract extension.

Some rumors have suggested the club already have completed that and the announcement is lagging behind. Call me a conspiracy theorist but it could make some sense that Saliba would want the number two, currently occupied by Hector Bellerin. Perhaps we are waiting for his official departure and fond farewell before Saliba gets an announcement and number change. In the meantime, we have to operate under the assumption that that business has yet to be complete but is, hopefully, a top priority.

When the time does arrive — again assuming it hasn’t come and passed — Saliba’s camp will carry a large amount of leverage. Saliba is a solidified talent, in incredible form, a key player in Arsenal’s attacking foundation and defense, and will have caught the wandering eyes or other European giants. No one in the red and white wants to see it, but if Saliba opted to leave, he certainly wouldn’t become homeless. But what’s that extension going to cost?

Likely a pretty penny.

Looking at Arsenal’s wages*, Saliba is on £40k per week, in line with Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, another player in need of extension work. If we look at Saliba’s defending partners, Gabriel sits on £50k per week and White at £120k per week.

It’s important to note, should Pepe leave, and no additional major names are purchased, Ben White would be Arsenal’s third highest earner.

It’s also important to remember, as good as Saliba has been, the club is likely to take his young age into account in a few ways. Suppose they sign him to another four or five year deal. He would end this contract around the age of 26 or 27, right in his prime and in time to sign what is generally a player’s largest contract. This means, despite the — sort of — veracious comparisons to world-class Virgil Van Dijk, the club are unlikely to pay him the £220k per week that VVD is paid. That would be a 5.5x raise and they know they would like to give him an additional bump down the road.

In my estimation, Arsenal are probably looking at fitting him within their current wage structure, and in a place that aligns with White and where they believe Gabriel will end up after his next extension — assuming he is given one. I don’t believe that somewhere between the £100,000-140,000 per week range in unreasonable for either player or club… and baby, if you’re Arsenal you pay that money without batting an eye.

It’s clear that Arsenal have an immense talent on their hands. It was clear when they signed him that Saliba had the makings of a gem with a few rough edges to polish. And when you see him play the way he did against Bournemouth, you can’t help but dream about the stable foundation he could provide for the next ten years. Or, in the very worst case scenario, the profit you could make at the end of the next contract. Paying £27m for his play, having him progress this well through loans, seeing it translate flawlessly in these early stages, and compared to Van Dijk starts to correlate with high numbers.

It’s too early to make too many concrete forecasts but wouldn’t he fit right in with Adams, Campbell, Keown, Bould, and Toure if he could become a legend? At this trajectory, he could soon find himself walking amongst giants.

*Wages stats are sourced from FBref.com

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