Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has revealed that the decision to leave William Saliba out of the Gunners’ Europa League squad was a “hurtful” and regrettable one.
The young Frenchman was signed from Saint-Etienne in the summer of 2019 for £27 million (€30m/$35m) but spent last term back on loan at the Ligue 1 club.
It proved to be an injury-hit campaign for the youngster, and when he finally joined up with the London side on a full-time basis he was unable to immediately win over the confidence of the manager.
Consequently, he was left out of the group that will play European football before Christmas, despite a crisis at centre-back ahead of the encounter with Dundalk leaving Arteta’s men short in that area.
Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari were already missing when David Luiz limped out of the 1-0 loss to Leicester on Sunday, leaving Gabriel and Shkodran Mustafi as the only natural options in that role for the encounter with the Irish side.
“I feel really bad for William Saliba,” Arteta explained. “Because we had so many central defenders, we decided to leave him out of the squad which was really hurtful for me to do.
“I was hoping that Pablo would be back in two weeks but he had a setback and then we don't have Pablo and we don't have William when he's fit and available to play, but when you make those decisions, you can't always think about every possible outcome.”
Meanwhile, Arteta says Saliba is making progress.
“He's in a much better place,” the coach said. “He's feeling a lot more confident around the place, his language is improving and he's starting to understand much better what we're doing physically.
“He's played a few games with the under-23s which he needed because he didn't play any football in the last seven or eight months. Things are progressively getting better and better.”
Although Saliba cannot play in European competition, he has been named in the Premier League squad, meaning that he could face Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday. He will miss out again next midweek, however, when Arsenal host Molde in the Europa League.