William Saliba admits he was humbled after six months without a match at Arsenal amid a series of loan moves.
The centre-back moved to the Emirates for £27 million in 2019 but is yet to make a single appearance for the Gunners after loan spells at St-Etienne, Nice and Marseille.
Now at Marseille, Saliba is beginning to show signs of the player that excited Arsenal fans when he was first announced.
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Speaking exclusively to Eurosport France, the 20-year-old said the move to the Premier League brought him back to reality and taught him to earn his place at the top level.
"There are hard times," admitted Saliba. "I hadn't played a game for six months.
"You have to fight in a career. We must take that as a lesson to go further. It gave me a little slap to say: 'You are nobody!' You can be bought for 30 million euros, arrive in a club and we put you aside.
"I took this experience by being positive. I feed on it. I know what it's like not to play for six months. Today, I want to play every game. It puts the ideas back in place. Before arriving at Arsenal, I said to myself: 'Who am I going to play with?' And then you are not even in the group in the Premier League.
It gives you a good slap, it feels good. It brings you back to the reality.
Saliba is a key fixture in the backline of a stubborn Marseille side that sits second in Ligue 1, with a league-low 14 goals conceded this season.
And while he insists he is not playing for recognition in north London, he is certainly keen to show what he is capable of.
"It is not a direct message," he adds. "But since I didn't play for six months, that I had a hard time, I wanted to show that I had the capacity to play at this club. I do it for myself first. It's not revenge."
Saliba's loan move does not include an option to buy, but he is treating his stay in Marseille as if he were on a permanent contract.
Arsenal unveil new signing William Saliba at London Colney on July 23, 2019 in St Albans, England.
Image credit: Getty Images
And while he keeps track of Arsenal's results, he says he is dedicated to his adoptive French side and is not thinking about the future.
"I'm on loan," he says. "But I pretend I'm there for many years. I'm not thinking about returning to Arsenal [right now]. I give myself to Marseille. I don't think about what will happen afterwards."
The defender's relationship with Mikel Arteta has never been clear, and the £50 million signing of Ben White from Brighton in the summer seemed to have pushed Saliba further down the pecking order.
But it appears he remains in the Spaniard's plans. At the end of October, Arteta declared: "Saliba? There is a place for him with us."
And Saliba remains stoic, keeping his head down, and working hard to earn his place wherever he plays. Taking nothing for granted:
Football is like that. In big teams, there is competition everywhere. If you're afraid of the competition, don't play football.
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