Arsenal have confirmed that defender William Saliba has signed a new four-year contract. The contract comes with a hefty pay increase, handing the young Frenchman a whopping £190,000 a week. Saliba has also been given the number 2 shirt, taking over from Héctor Bellerín, who left at the beginning of the 2022/23 season.
Saliba’s contract is the latest in a long line of deals agreed by the club. Brazilian defender Gabriel Magalhães put pen to paper midway through the season, while Gabriel Martinelli soon followed suit in February. This was followed up with a new deal for goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and a highly-anticipated long-term commitment from Bukayo Saka. Reiss Nelson has also committed his long-term future to the club the other day.
Saliba has been one of the most anticipated new signings for the club in recent months. The Frenchman’s performances over the course of the 22/23 season were imperious, and Saliba soon established himself as one of the best defenders in Europe, forming a formidable partnership alongside Gabriel Magalhães.
Though the 22/23 season was Saliba’s debut season with the club, he has been with the club since 2019. Initially signed back in 2019, Saliba was loaned out in his first season back to AS Saint-Étienne, where Arsenal just signed him from.
The plan was that Saliba would gain some much-needed experience at his hometown club and then return ready for the new season. However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Saliba’s season was cut short.
Upon his return to Arsenal, everything had changed. The head coach that had signed him, Unai Emery, was gone, replaced by Mikel Arteta. Raul Sanllehí, the director of football who had sanctioned his signing was also gone, replaced now by Edu Gaspar.
Arteta was a big fan of the young defender. However, he needed to see more from the £27m man and sanctioned another loan move. Initially thought to be joining Ligue 1 side Rennes, the deal collapsed and an 11th-hour loan back to Saint-Étienne fell through, leaving an unregistered Saliba unable to make any appearances for the first team.
Reduced to appearances for the U23 side, Saliba was eventually loaned out in the January window. There, Saliba joined OGC Nice for the remainder of the season, where he impressed for the Ligue 1 outfit.
Upon his return, both the player and the manager felt that he needed a full season under his belt. Arsenal had, initially, wanted Saliba to sort gain Premier League experience. A loan move to Newcastle United beckoned, however, Saliba opted to return, once more, to Ligue 1, this time with OSC Marseille.
Saliba’s performance was one of the best in Europe at that time. A standout performance at home to Paris-Saint Germain had been exceptionally well received, culminating in an exceptional last-ditch tackle to deny the lethal Kylian Mbappé.
After his loan move was completed, Saliba returned to Arsenal. The 22/23 season seemed to be the making of the player.
Initially thought to rotate with Benjamin White, Mikel Arteta found an intriguing way to play them both. White moved to the somewhat familiar role at right-back, while Saliba took up the post of right-sided central defender.
In Saliba’s full debut for the team, a 0-2 away win over Crystal Palace, he won the Man of the Match award. From there, Saliba continued to improve. The formidable duo he formed alongside Gabriel became one of the most feared defensive duos in the Premier League.
However, Saliba’s season was cut short by injury. A back injury sustained in the club’s 1-1 draw at home to Sporting Lisbon meant that Arsenal no longer had their commanding central defender available for a crucial run-in that would, ultimately, see them fail to lift the Premier League title in May.
Arsenal struggled to replace the Frenchman. A further injury to Takehiro Tomiyasu meant that Arsenal were forced to experiment at the back. First, with Rob Holding, then with January signing Jakub Kiwior, and then with Benjamin White moving into central defence and Thomas Partey moving to right-back.
Arsenal will be exceptionally pleased to have tied Saliba down to fresh terms. Many suitors on the continent and even from within the Premier League itself had made their interest in Saliba known. However, Saliba, who had already turned down a move to Tottenham Hotspur in order to join the club, was keen to establish himself at Arsenal in a meaningful way.
With Saliba’s contract tied up, Arsenal can now turn their attentions to more pressing issues. A busy summer window beckons, in which Arsenal are expected to complete some highly expensive transfers, will also be punctuated by preliminary talks with other players who are in need of fresh terms. Both Benjamin White and captain Martin Ødegaard are thought to be next in line for a new contract and the club are keen to tie their main core down as soon as possible.
In terms of incomings, Arsenal have already been busy. Chelsea’s Kai Havertz has already joined the club, in a deal worth £65m, while announcements are pending for West Ham captain Declan Rice for a British and club record fee of £105m, and Ajax defender Jurriën Timber, who will provide defensive cover for both White and Saliba.