Mikel Arteta appreciates why questions are being asked of Arsenal’s decision to send William Saliba out on loan - with £27 million ($37m) having been invested - but the Gunners boss says the teenage defender still has a bright future in north London.
The centre-half completed a big-money move to England during the summer of 2020, with a deal having been struck with Saint-Etienne 12 months prior.
Saliba was expected to slot seamlessly into the fold at Emirates Stadium, with his potential ready to be embraced by a Premier League outfit that has suffered defensive struggles.
The Arsenal boss is eager to point out that he is not giving up on Saliba, with a deal in January done to give him the best possible chance of making an impact for his parent club in 2021-22.
Arteta told reporters: “We signed a big project that we had some issues with because he’s not played enough football over the past 18 months and at that age, and in the development phase he is at, that is crucial.
“I was always very conscious when he came back, when he didn’t do the step that he had to before joining us, that to start a relationship with a new manager, a new club, new team-mates where he is not having any game time is really difficult and I think it is damaging for the future.
“I want to protect the player that we signed and the future we have alongside him and the best way to do that is to give him minutes to play.
"He has been really good, it has been a difficult few months for him to cope with that situation but I see the development that he has made, the progression that he has shown over the months and now he is ready to compete.
“He is going to a really strong league as well, a league he knows really well, he has experience [there] and he needs to play as many games as possible to be ready for us from next season.
“He will come back for pre-season and he will be with us, and hopefully he will come back after playing a number of games and [with] his performances raising and his development progressing in the right way. That is why we made that decision.
“I know that sometimes it is difficult to explain or understand after the money the club spent bringing him in, sending him on loan, but a lot of things have happened to him, he is a long-term player for us and we need to protect him as well.
“Giving him three or four games is not enough for him, he needs much more than that but what has happened over the past 18 months, he has gone through some personal problems as well that we have to try to help him, and stay as close as possible to him, and now he needs to play, play and play and enjoy his profession as well.
“In order for him to do that I think we have found the right club with him, he is very happy to go there right now and hopefully he can enjoy his football and be ready for us next season.”
Saliba made his debut for Nice in their Ligue 1 clash with Brest on Wednesday and did not get off to the best of starts as he was booked inside 11 minutes and conceded twice before half-time in a 2-0 defeat.