William Saliba could walk into conflict at Arsenal in the summer.
That's the view of Paul Merson, who believes new manager Mikel Arteta could have moved for Pablo Mari in January because he wants his own man.
Saliba was snapped up in a £27million summer move under Unai Emery and instantly sent back to Saint-Etienne on loan to continue his development.
He will return next season where he is expected to stake his claim as the answer to Arsenal's central defensive problems.
But former Gunners star Merson reckons the vast array of defensive options could see Saliba at the centre of conflict as Arteta looks to favour his own man.
In his latest Daily Star column, Merson said: “The defence is going to take time. He’s brought two defenders in with Cedric and Pablo Mari, and he’s got William Saliba coming in from France in the summer.
“Part of me wonders whether he wanted Mari because Saliba isn’t his signing, and there could be some conflict there. But he’s made good signings.”
Saliba has spent much of this season sidelined through injury.
He spent time recovering at London Colney early in the campaign, reportedly impressing Arsenal staff with his physical attributes.
He broke his foot in November but has recently returned and played the last three games for the French top flight side.
This week, he addressed his future and insisted he remains fully focused on Saint-Etienne but will be heading to north London next season as planned.
Saliba said: “For now, I’m 300% focused on Saint-Étienne. My head isn’t elsewhere.
"Next year, I’ll be at Arsenal, but I still follow their results.”
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