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A certain German playmaker made headlines with his absence from Arsenal’s 2020/21 Premier League team this season. However, the name of his popular teenage center-back was also missing.
William Saliba, despite joining Arsenal in the summer of 2019, has yet to appear as a senior for the Gunners. Having been loaned directly to Saint-Etienne for the 2019/20 campaign, Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has clearly considered that France’s under-20 international surplus meets the requirements for this period, leaving Saliba without further ado remedy than embarking on another loan period.
Ligue 1’s OGC Nice gratefully welcomed Saliba back to the division where he caught the attention of the Premier League team for the first time, and agreed to take the center-back on loan for the remainder of the season and cover all. their wages.
But, other than idyllic surroundings, what can Saliba look forward to when he arrives on the Côte d’Azur, and will he finally be able to accumulate that vague little “experience” that can ignite his career at Arsenal?
When one name from Arsenal enters Nice, another leaves. Patrick Vieira, who so gracefully patrolled Arsenal’s midfield during the club’s heyday in the late 1990s and early 2000s, lost the opportunity to coach Saliba after being fired in early December.
Vieira, who led the team to seventh and fifth in his first two seasons, oversaw five straight losses before Nice finally pulls the trigger. However, his former assistant Adrian Ursea has been unable to suppress poor form since taking over, leaving Nice with just one win out of their last 11 games of 2020.
Les Aiglons, the Eagles, sit 12th on the table, with no relegation threat, but also far from European places. In fact, his qualification for the Europa League last season was largely due to the early reduction of the French top flight and the sensational individual performances of goalkeeper Walter Benítez, who scored almost 11 more goals than the average closer according to FBRef – the most of its kind in the top five leagues in Europe last season.
Things are not very good off the field either. Club fans expressed their disgust at the club’s lamentable form by preventing the team bus from traveling to a Europa League group stage match in December. The bus eventually left, but it could have been better to stay: Nice limped out of the competition with five losses in six games.
The riots have apparently moved from the stands to the training ground with the French publication the team reporting a ‘fight’ between two Nice players in January.
There have also been upheavals in the club’s hierarchy. Club president Jean-Pierre Rivere and sporting director Julian Fournier have been two very influential figures during the recent successes of Nice; However, six months after leaving the club in February 2019, the couple returned with the change of ownership in August 2019.
The new owners, the INEOS chemical company owned by British billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, have overlooked a wave of spending since he took office. Nice, which boasts the third highest net spending in Ligue 1, behind Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, since the summer of 2019.
However, the players who have joined have endured mixed fortunes, with many more concerned about the squad that is allowed to leave the club than those who arrive for profit.
What is worrisome for Arsenal, Nice’s once impressive reputation for promoting young players has waned in recent years.
Once a hugely promising left back, Stanley Nsoki, and one of the players who supposedly took part in that rampage on training ground, has put in increasingly error-ridden performances this period. While exciting center-back Malang Sarr was able to join Chelsea on a free transfer last summer.
Saliba has been forced to undertake this loan move to avoid a similar downward trajectory, but it will reach a club familiar with that particular arc.
Unfortunately, the 19-year-old hasn’t even played a minute and is already being framed as the club’s saving grace. Nice’s coach wasted no time painting Saliba as a defensive backbone, with Ursea telling the club website: “He can bring us a lot, defensively, in terms of our game plan and the way we play the ball from behind.”
Nice suffered a major defeat with the injury of club captain Dante, 37, earlier in the season. Saliba, who is still a teenager, has already been singled out as a player who can replicate the kind of leadership the team lost with Dante’s injury.
“His arrival will lead to emulation in our defense,” Ursea said. “We have lost Dante, and we are still waiting for the leaders to arrive. William is a player with a lot of personality.”
Whether inspiring a change of course or joining a sinking ship still on the way down, Saliba is sure to rack up a little more of that vaunted ‘experience’ in his six months in Nice.