I can't remember the last time so much anticipation and uncertainty surrounded an Arsenal loanee, but what I do know is when the future of William Saliba is settled, Arsenal fans will either be relieved or very disappointed.
The defender was signed from Saint-Etienne for a reported fee of around £27m back in 2019 but is still waiting to make his Arsenal first-team debut after being loaned out on three different occasions.
Viewed as one of the most talented young centre-backs in the world, Saliba has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, especially this season at Olympique Marseille. A number of impressive performances have seen the 21-year-old pick up several Player of the Month awards, before eventually being nominated for Ligue 1 Young Player of the Year.
READ MORE: William Saliba proves to Mikel Arteta why Arsenal must turn down AC Milan's transfer approach
It's been a 2021/22 campaign which has also led to him receiving his first senior France call up and debut. As much as his development and success are great to see, it begs the question – what happens next?
Marseille boss Jorge Sampaoli has admitted that he hopes the club can 'retain' Saliba, while its president Pablo Longoria has also hinted at his preference for the player to stay put. However, a recent report from Marseille-based newspaper, La Provence claims Saliba's progress has meant the Gunners are now 'counting on him' and 'plan' to have him in the team next season.
As the season draws to a close, Mikel Arteta finds himself dealing with a defensive dilemma. Rob Holding received a second yellow at Tottenham on Thursday which will see him serve a one-match suspension and Gabriel Magalhaes picked up what appeared to be a hamstring injury during the same match, leaving Ben White as the only available centre-back in the first-team squad.
For Arsenal, this couldn't have come at a worse time as the team prepares for a must-win match against Newcastle on Monday night. They are on the brink of Champions League qualification, but the North London derby defeat means Spurs are just one point behind in fifth place.
There's no doubt that loaning Saliba out again this season was a sensible call. Despite the positives that have come with it, he has still lacked concentration in certain moments and made errors which can only be expected at a young age. The aforementioned Gabriel and White have formed a solid partnership at the back this season, so regular game time for Saliba was never going to be a guarantee, especially with fewer matches to play.
Next season, however, is a different matter. Arsenal are guaranteed a top-five finish, meaning European football will return to the Emirates Stadium in some capacity. Additional fixtures will fill the calendar and the Premier League's introduction of five substitutions also opens up the door for the Frenchman to finally get his chance in north London.
With all of that in mind, it seems wise for Arteta to put these reported plans in place for Saliba moving forward. It would be such a shame to witness him make all this progress only to then leave permanently. It's fair to say he's far from the finished product, but he appears to be at a stage where he can contribute at a level which can satisfy Arsenal and his presence in the team could prove crucial next season.