Arsenal treatment of Wiliam Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi could have damaging implications

Arsenal: Arteta tells Lacazette to focus on pitch

William Saliba’s first words as an Arsenal player tell the story: “Well, the history, the badge… since I was little, I’ve been watching Arsenal play in the Champions League and so on, and there are a lot of French players who have come through here. So that really helped me to make my mind up.”

When Arsene Wenger arrived in north London in the autumn of 1996, Highbury was at the centre of a French invasion. Patrick Vieira and Remi Garde were part of Wenger’s immediate cohort before Nicolas Anelka, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord also arrived at the famous Marble Hall.

This was simply a golden era for French football. Les Blues won the World Cup on home soil in 1998 before David Trezeguet’s golden goal fired them to last-gasp glory at Euro 2000. During that stretch, Arsenal became the place to be for any Frenchman with aspirations of playing in the Premier League.

Therefore, more players followed suit in the form of Gael Clichy, Abou Diaby, William Gallas, Samir Nasri, Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud.

It was the innovation of Wenger in particular and his ability to develop players while implementing an attacking style of play that left a huge impression on French football, most notably the next generation.

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Alexandre Lacazette grew up wanting to be Henry and was eventually signed by the manager and club that made him. Arsenal’s successful history of developing French players has always given them an extra edge in the transfer market.

That could now be about to end though at the hands of Mikel Arteta, who inherited two of the brightest prospects in French football – William Saliba and Matteo Guendouzi – as part of his squad when succeeding Unai Emery.

Yet his treatment of both is likely to have shattered any chance of recruiting upcoming talent from across the channel in the near future.

Arteta has cited personal reasons as a key factor behind Saliba’s lack of first-team opportunities this season.

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The 19-year-old was left out of the club’s Premier League and Europa League squads at the beginning of the campaign despite being a regular in pre-season.

Instead, he was forced to play his football with the under-23s after a loan move back to Saint-Etienne collapsed in the final week of the transfer window. A temporary move to Brentford also failed to materialise in October.

On Monday he returned to Ligue 1 to join Nice on a season-long loan. Arsenal fought off the likes of Tottenham and Wolves to wrap up a deal for Saliba in the summer of 2019 for £27million and at the time, the acquisition was regarded as a major coup by the club’s hierarchy, who believed they’d signed the future of their defence.

It soon became clear Arteta disagreed following a full pre-season to assess Saliba but it’s rather insulting the teenager was not deemed ready for the Premier League this term, given some of the players on show for the club in the past few months.

During his time at Saint-Etienne, Saliba played alongside Leicester’s Wesley Fofana and was deemed the superior defender.

Fofana has since made the transition to the Premier League look easy under Brendan Rodgers and has been comfortably one of the best defenders in the division, earning praise from Gary Lineker among others.

The Foxes centre-back couldn’t help but aim a swipe at Arsenal, following confirmation of his friend Saliba’s imminent move to Nice.

“He is finally free,” Fofana posted on his Instagram story. Coincidentally, it’s not the first time Arsenal’s treatment of Saliba has been compared to that of a prisoner.

During an Instagram exchange with Nicolas Pepe, Saliba told the Ivorian in reference to a previous message to Matteo Guendouzi: “Hahaha, I’m sending well wishes to the brother that was locked up like me.”

Guendouzi replied: “We are together bro.”

The curly-haired midfielder is no angel of course. He was banished from Arsenal’s first-team set up by Arteta following a spat with Neal Maupay shortly after Project Restart.

Guendouzi is alleged to have mocked his compatriot’s salary in comparison to his, before Maupay’s last-minute winner sparked fiery scenes after the full-time whistle at the Amex Stadium.

Arteta was keen to make an example of Guendouzi and was tired of his petulance. He decided to lay down a marker.

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The pair previously came to blows during a mid-season training camp in Dubai but Guendouzi worked his way back into favour.

He has not featured since for the Gunners and joined Hertha Berlin on loan at the start of the season. Now he faces a fight to turn things around under Arteta and much like Saliba, his long-term future at the club remains unclear.

Rightly or wrongly, both are unlikely to offer glowing reviews of life under Arteta and Arsenal, particularly if any young French players approach them for background ahead of a potential transfer. Both are also widely respected at youth level for their country.

Instead, those with hopes of a Premier League move will turn to the likes Fofana for inspiration. Leicester have now become the ideal destination for any young player who wants to make an impact on England shores.

While Arteta is keen to put his own stamp on Arsenal’s DNA, his revolution is already threatening to diminish the club’s French bloodline. Something likely to have damaging implications in the future.

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