From 10 involved to one left — William Saliba is the last man standing for Arsenal at the World Cup.
As his club-mates returned to action with a 2-0 defeat against Juventus, Saliba, who has played just 27 minutes in Qatar, was readying himself for the final against Argentina. Considering the illness that has swept through the France camp he may even get a late call-up.
Arsenal’s other nine players who went to Doha had varied success but it is the injury to Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus that could have the biggest consequences.
The 25-year-old was injured in Brazil’s final group game against Cameroon and has had surgery on his knee. It remains unclear how long the summer signing from Manchester City, who has scored five Premier League goals and assisted the same number, will be out for. He has been integral to Arsenal’s fine start to the season that has them top of the table by five points as the league gets set to resume on Boxing Day.
Thomas Partey’s Ghana were eliminated in the group stages, while Matt Turner (USA), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) and Takehiro Tomiyasu (Japan) left at the round of 16.
Bukayo Saka, Aaron Ramsdale (England) and Gabriel Martinelli (Brazil) had the longest stays (before Saliba), managing to reaching the quarter-finals. Benjamin White left the England squad for personal reasons at the end of the group stages.
During summer tournaments, players are usually given a three-week break before returning to training but following this World Cup, it has been reduced to just one.
Here’s how this winter World Cup has impacted Mikel Arteta’s squad…
William Saliba — France
Make no mistake, Saliba has been having the time of his life. The 21-year-old’s experience with the France national team has been a rite of passage.
Those 27 minutes on the pitch against Tunisia in the third group game matter because there is a form of self-justification in actually playing rather than being an unused squad member, but it is the bigger picture of belonging to an elite and closely bonded group on the greatest stage that has the deeper impact.
The France squad, particularly under Didier Deschamps, has certain built-in characteristics to prioritise how well a group can live together. Saliba has grown into that. Perhaps a little reserved to start with, he has increasingly been involved in the collective mood of respect, work ethic, friendship and fun that underlines the way Les Bleus are expected to behave at a tournament.
What he has witnessed around him, and the example set by some of the most experienced players such as Olivier Giroud, Hugo Lloris, and Antoine Griezmann, can only be positive on his development.
His confidence was already pretty exceptional at Arsenal in the early part of the season. He will return having absorbed so much to make it even stronger.
Aaron Ramsdale — England
The goalkeeper did not play at the World Cup for England, but that should come at his and Arsenal’s benefit. He has spent another tournament among Gareth Southgate’s squad which will bode well ahead of future international camps and tournaments, while not exerting himself too much.
He returned to training during the week and then started the friendly against Juventus. It was not the best preparation for the 24-year-old as he was not busy with his hands or feet. Most of the game saw Arsenal play in the Juventus half and the goals he conceded were from a deflected cross that went in off Granit Xhaka and a shot in the final minute that went in off Rob Holding. Other than that, he had just one save to make all game.
Matt Turner — USA
The World Cup was positive for Turner. He played all of the U.S.’s games as they reached the round of 16 and seemed to grow in confidence as the tournament progressed. His shot-stopping has always been the best aspect of his play but his distribution improved with each game, which will encourage Arsenal if Ramsdale misses any matches in the second half of the season.
The 28-year-old will return as Ramsdale’s back-up, but establishing himself further internationally can only help.
Takehiro Tomiyasu — Japan
Like last season, recent months have been about managing Tomiyasu. The 24-year-old went to the World Cup squad nursing a hamstring injury and was played accordingly in Qatar.
He was a substitute in the wins over Germany and Spain before playing the whole match of their penalty shootout defeat to Croatia in the round of 16. He travelled to Dubai after Japan’s elimination without training but Arteta is hopeful about his chances to return for the Boxing Day meeting with West Ham United.
“Alex (Zinchenko) is progressing well. Tomi is already running on the pitch. Hopefully we’ll get them back.” the Arsenal manager said.
Benjamin White — England
White’s World Cup did not go as he would have hoped. When he was selected for the England squad, he was believed to have a good chance of playing time — particularly if the manager adopted a back three. As it transpired, Gareth Southgate went for a back four and White did not feature at all. What’s more, he left the camp early for personal reasons.
The FA’s statement on White leaving the squad asked for the player’s privacy to be respected. While White did have a training ground disagreement with England coach Steve Holland, the major contributing factors to White’s departure remain personal and private.
After a short break, White joined Arsenal’s winter training camp in Dubai. He swiftly resumed training, and played the first half of Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Milan in the Dubai Super Cup. Arsenal staff were reassured that physically, he was in top condition and he played an hour of the defeat to Juventus.
“Everybody has been giving him a lot of support and love, which is what he needed,” said Arteta. “We are delighted to have him back and have him in really good shape.”
Having now gone to two international tournaments without playing, White will doubtless be relieved to return to club football where he is a valued part of Arteta’s team.
Granit Xhaka — Switzerland
Of all the players at the World Cup, Xhaka was the most vocal about his plans. The 30-year-old was proud of reaching the round of 16 with Switzerland but stated he would travel straight to Dubai from Qatar to begin training with Arsenal.
“The Premier League is waiting and, of course, I wanted to be here longer than this,” he said after losing to Portugal. “But we lost the game today and I am happy to go back now with the team.
“I have something to achieve there…”
He trained individually in Dubai before integrating with the group at London Colney and playing 63 minutes against Juventus. His influence was felt immediately, pushing into more advanced pockets in possession and winning duels out of it to help Arsenal control the early exchanges.
His own goal (an attempted headed clearance) came when Arsenal had begun to coast, but his return will be crucial for Arsenal’s midfield.
Thomas Partey — Ghana
Like White, Thomas Partey’s World Cup did not go as hoped. Ghana’s group-stage elimination meant he managed to return to Arteta’s starting XI for the mid-season friendlies against AC Milan and Juventus.
The 29-year-old showed nice disguise on his touches in the first half to glide away from challenges and was able to combine nicely with White to give Arsenal time to breathe on the ball.
Bukayo Saka — England
Bukayo Saka was Arsenal’s star representative at the World Cup. What a surprise.
England’s joint-top scorer in the tournament (three goals), and a constant threat on the right, he brought what he’s shown at Emirates Stadium for years to the world stage and was outstanding against France in the quarter-final.
Considering he had a much more instrumental role in his country’s progress, it is understandable that the winger was given a longer rest period.
Gabriel Martinelli — Brazil
Gabriel Martinelli also reached the quarter-finals, but only had a bit-part role for Brazil so should be refreshed for Arsenal duty. The widemen (Martinelli and Saka) have been key figures in the Arsenal attack this season and are ready to resume training next week.
“They come back straight away into the rhythm, shape and mood of the team,” Arteta said. “We are waiting for them and they are desperate to be back as well. I’ve spoken to both of them, Gabi was here today (with) a big smile, big energy and ready to go again. It’s going to be a big boost for the team.”
Gabriel Jesus — Brazil
Gabriel Jesus is the big long-term worry for Arsenal off the back of events in Qatar and there is still no timeline on when he will return from the knee injury he sustained for Brazil in the World Cup.
Similar to Martinelli, Jesus did not travel to Qatar as Brazil’s starting striker. He didn’t play in the opening game against Serbia and came off the bench for the last 17 minutes against Switzerland. Jesus started the final group game against Cameroon but was taken off after 64 minutes after sustaining the knee injury.
Eddie Nketiah has stepped up as his deputy, as expected. The striker showed he could be depended on for a stretch of games at the back-end of last season.
The 23-year-old scored in Arsenal’s first mid-season friendly against Lyon and continued to look sharp against AC Milan.
He had a goal ruled out against Juventus moments before hitting the post, but had a tough task against a side which sat back for most of the game.
(Top photo: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)