Football

Mikel Arteta won't rush William Saliba back

Arsenal plan to extend highly rated French defender's loan so he can play in Coupe de France final

Despite Arsenal's defensive frailties, manager Mikel Arteta wants young centre-back William Saliba to stay at Saint-Etienne rather than head to north London to help the Gunners out in the tail end of the season.

The highly rated 19-year-old, who was signed for £27 million (S$46.4m) last July, was loaned back to his boyhood club for the rest of the season to continue his development.

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The Frenchman's loan deal ends today and, despite the Ligue 1 season being prematurely cut short in April due to Covid-19, the Coupe de France final will still be played on July 24 between Saint-Etienne and Paris Saint-Germain.

Of the top 11 teams in the English Premier League, only Burnley have conceded more than Arsenal's tally of 41 goals in 31 matches.

Senior centre-backs David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi have regularly been the subject of ridicule for their defensive performances.

Despite that, Arteta said ahead of his side's EPL clash with bottom-placed Norwich City tomorrow morning (Singapore time): "I think he (Saliba) needs to stay there, we've got an agreement with Saint-Etienne.

"He's been all year over there, he's earned his right to play that final if the manager wants him to do that. I think we have to give him the opportunity to do that, to enjoy that and we can have him after."

The Spaniard also cautioned against pilling expectations on the teenager, adding: "I know how high the expectations are on him for next year, but we have to bear in mind the age that he's at and what he's done in the past. We have to make sure we create the right environment for him so he can keep growing as a player."

With the Gunners languishing in 10th in the league, Gilberto Silva, who was part of Arsenal's famed Invincibles of 2003/04, believes there may also be too much pressure on Arteta's charges.

He told Reuters: "People compare every current squad to our Invincibles squad and that's a bit unfair in my opinion.

"How do the players react to those comments, and how do they position themselves to do the best for the club?

"The question people ask (about Arsenal) is about leadership. But not just raising the voice, but the attitude in many games. It's important you talk with your attitude. They have not been competitive enough compared to other clubs.

"Arteta has a very hard challenge."

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