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The Curious Case of William Saliba

Olympique Lyon v OGC Nice - Ligue 1

William Saliba is a player that was lauded by Arsenal fans on his arrival two years ago for a reported £27 million from St. Etienne. A relatively unknown entity with a lot of potential waiting to be unearthed, the fans understood that he probably wasn’t going to compete with the much senior defenders in the side, so a loan move to his former club, St. Etienne, made sense at the time, and he featured regularly for the team, had his struggles with injuries, and with the COVID-19 pandemic complicating his loan terms, especially with the drama surrounding the Coupe de France final at the end of that campaign.

One assumed that last season would be the campaign we would finally get to see Saliba in action for the club, but after a couple of preseason games, it was evident that he wasn’t going to play a part in the campaign following a botched deadline day move as well as failing to register him in the competitions, so he spent the first half of the season doing nothing but training. I felt really sad about the situation because the Europa League would have been a good breeding ground for Saliba, and shockingly, he didn’t feature in the early rounds of the Carabao Cup as well. 

January couldn’t come quickly enough for Saliba as he was shipped to OGC Nice and actually started, you know, playing some football, earning rave reviews even to the point were he was nominated for Ligue 1 Defender of the Season despite joining the outfit in January. 

David Luiz finally leaves the club and we anticipated that the likes of Saliba will finally get the nod for the new campaign, but what does Arsenal do – try to delve in the market to sign Brighton’s Ben White for a reported £50 million, and according to recent reports, prepare another loan move for Saliba to Marseille this time.

For a player we spent 27 million quid on, we sure don’t rate him that much. Obviously, I’m not Mikel Arteta that watched him play in training, and in all honesty, I did not follow his progress in his loan spells at St. Etienne and most recently, Nice, but for the lad to be in contention for a Ligue 1 Defender of the Season spot, he must have had quite the campaign in the heart of Nice’s defense.

Arsenal has Rob Holding, Gabriel, Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers as their registered center backs for the season, and with Ben White’s imminent arrival, one can see why Saliba may not cut it again this season. However, I feel that there is an underlying issue between the player and his gaffer to the point where it seems that Arsenal has no plans for him at all, and its more annoying with the fact that he pulled out of the French Olympic Team in anticipation of participating in a full preseason with the club, only to be potentially shipped out again.

Well, he signed a five year deal with the club and it seems like we won’t have a real glimpse of him in the first three years of his career with us. 

A real curious case.

Sayonara.

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Locatelli: The Answer to Arsenal’s Midfield Conundrum?

Manuel Locatelli: Italy player shines and scores against Switzerland - The  Athletic

The Athletic reported that Arsenal has made an official bid for Sassuolo’s Manuel Locatelli, with the club’s CEO, Giovanni Carnevali, confirming the North London club’s interest for their midfielder, as well as the bid. The 23-year-old midfielder began his career with AC Milan before moving on loan to Sassuolo three seasons ago and remained with the outfit after they reached a permanent agreement with his parent club. Locatelli has been an ever-present for his club, missing all but four Serie A fixtures last season but his form was deemed good enough by Italy gaffer, Roberto Mancini, to warrant a place in the Azzurri Euro 2020 squad, and he proved his worth with two well taken goals against the Swiss.

Manuel Locatelli may have scored four goals and created three assists in 34 appearances for Sassuolo last season, but he’s not just about these numbers. His true strengths are in his passing abilities (averaging 88.1 percent per match per WhoScored) with 1.7 key passes and 4.4 long balls per match, which essentially means that he can build up attacks from central midfield. His defensive side is also admirable, notching up 2.4 tackles per game, 1.5 interceptions per game, 1.8 fouls per game with the occasional clearances and blocks. He also has an eye for goal, as he’s renowned for firing surface-to-air piledrivers from his feet goalwards.

These are some impressive numbers and its evident that a player like Locatelli is exactly what Arsenal needs with the club’s midfield lynchpin, Granit Xhaka, already heading to the exit door with a move to AS Roma imminent. Xhaka moving out would create a massive void in central midfield with Thomas Partey being the only recognized mainstay in that position and we all know he struggled with fitness in his maiden season at the club. With Dani Ceballos returning to Real Madrid, Mohamed Elneny, Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Joseph Willock are the only available options in central midfield, and if we are honest, they are more of quantity than quality. It’s also worth noting that Guendouzi has pretty much burned his bridges with the club and will be looking for a summer move out, while Torreira doesn’t fancy sticking around as well, so the numbers would actually be shortened.

A player like Locatelli also doesn’t come in with much fanfare, so he will be able to settle in at the club without any pressure to light up any fireworks, which will be good for his confidence. He may be young, but he’s the kind of player Arsenal would need in this project Mikel Arteta is building. On the bright side, he’s not expected to cost so much, and like Nuno Taveres’ imminent arrival, its evident that the club is strategically sorting out its deficiencies and we are hopeful that Locatelli would be donning the famous Red and White after European Championships.

Sayonara.

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Thoughts on Rob Holding’s Contract Extension

Newcastle United: David Ornstein deals blow to hopes of signing Arsenal ace Rob  Holding | The Transfer Tavern

The magic of the FA Cup took centerstage this weekend and our focus in moving to that knockout competition to the Premier League, where Arsenal needs more points to move up the table in their current resurgence. The Gunners take on Crystal Palace on Thursday, but the news dominating the rounds is the much welcome news that Arsenal defender, Rob Holding, signed a new long term deal with the club, to keep him at the Emirates for the foreseeable future. 

Holding has been with Arsenal for the best part of five years, and its fair to say that this has been the campaign he has really stepped up to make himself a mainstay in the Gunners. Arsenal gaffer, Mikel Arteta, waxed lyrical about Holding, especially with the fact that the club almost sent him out on loan to Newcastle this season, before pulling the plug,

“It was almost a year ago when he came back from his injury. He had a period when he didn’t play and then he played against Leeds at home [in the FA Cup] and when you compare how he has evolved in a year from there until now, it’s incredible.

“It’s down to him; how professional he is, how much he wants to learn, how much he puts that into every training session. And then there’s his character and his personality. He’s growing in every aspect. I’m really happy with him.

“It’s true that in the summer he came to me because we had a large amount of centre-backs and he wasn’t sure about how many minutes he was going to have. We stopped him going anywhere because we knew he was going to be an important player for us.”

Under Unai Emery, Holding featured regularly and earned his place on the side, before that unfortunate injury at Old Trafford cut his campaign short.

Manchester United vs Arsenal: Rob Holding seeking 'closure' a season on  from injury at Old Trafford | The Independent | The Independent

Despite the plethora of center backs currently at the club, Holding has made 18 appearances in all competitions this season and started 13 of Arsenal’s 17 league games, including all of the last seven. He has had several defensive partners this season, featuring in a back four and back three, and has tried to be a consistent figure at the back. He has earned five clean sheets this season with the club and is expected to feature consistently in the course of the campaign.

Here’s to Holding, a future Arsenal stalwart.

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