More importantly, what will it cost to lose him? After emerging as one of the breakout stats of this stellar season, William Saliba started to reveal his true value to the club through his absence. Once he went down, our form went with him. In the 27 matches he played, we won 21, drew three, and lost three, a pace that would have seen us finish on 97 points. In the eleven matches he missed, we won five, drew three, and lost three, and that pace would have seen us finish on just 62 points.
That’s Tottenham-esque. Is it any wonder, then, that contract talks with the Frenchman have dragged on? We knew how vital he was to our campaign. We know through the pain of experience just how badly we needed him. Advantage: Saliba. Currently on a mere £40k weekly wage, Saliba sees players rooted to the bench out-earning him: Tierney (£110k/wk), Nketiah (£100k/wk), Cedric (£75k/wk), Elneny (£55k/wk), and Vieira (£46k/wk). There’s also Pepe on loan (£140k/wk). Some of this reflects some undue and unwise generosity on the part of the club and pre-Arteta/Edu dealings; some of this reflects Arteta/Edu dealings. Either way, Saliba has to look around and wonder why so much dead wood out-earns him.
Then there’s the matter of Saka’s new contract. While those who score the goals always attract more attention and therefore fatter wage packets, a CB like Saliba knows that he does more than deny goals. His influence on our build-up play and the attack have been almost as sorely missed as his defending, something we looked at here. While he shouldn’t insist on being offered £280k/wk to match Saka, would £150k be enough? Not-at-all lurid or sensationalized headlines bleat out that we are SHOCKED as Saliba’s demand, which tells us less than nothing about what he’s actually “demanded”.
With a year left on his contract and his market-value skyrocketing, it’s essential that Arteta and Edu find a deal that convinces him to stay—and to somehow keep expectations for other players manageable (if that’s still possible with Martinelli rumoured to now be on £180k/wk in addition to Saka’s £280k/wk). Whatever the price of that deal, the cost of losing him might even be higher. Kiwior has impressed since joining, but it’s hard to see him reaching Saliba’s level. Signing another CB would involve a massive transfer fee unless we’re willing to re-start the process Saliba went through, going on loan for several years to develop. The only tenable solution then is to find that magic number for Saliba.
We’ve only just now begun to shed that reputation as a selling club with no ambition. We can’t afford to see that creep back in, but we can’t break the bank to keep Saliba…can we?