Many Gunners fans were left scratching their heads after Willian signed for Arsenal in August, wondering what Mikel Arteta was thinking signing a player who just celebrated his 32nd birthday a few weeks ago. Although snatching a player from under the noses of your rivals should bring joy and some sense of bragging rights, Willian signing for the Gunners was a deal that left some Arsenal fans dumbfounded.
Chelsea were happy to let the player leave, despite them offering him a new deal. But few could have imagined Mikel Arteta taking an interest in the player, and fans’ reservations on the signing could be rightly justified, given the line of Chelsea players previously signed by the Gunners.
Arsenal have been successful in offloading some players in this transfer window to lighten their wage bill. Henrikh Mkhitaryan left early on a free transfer to Roma, players such as Lucas Torreira (Atletico Madrid) and Matteo Guendouzi (Hertha Berlin) leaving on loan on deadline day, while the likes of Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi, Callum Chambers, Sokratis, and Sead Kolasinac have been deemed surplus to requirement and the club are still making efforts to jettison them out of the Emirates.
In an era of new players who could shift and transform Arsenal’s fortunes under Arteta, many thought Willian would just be another unnecessary player who’s wages will restrict the club’s finances, and hamper plans to bring in much younger and fresher talents.
Certainly, the Arsenal faithful were thinking long-term while the club were engrossed in short-term thinking. However, Willian’s performance in the 3-0 victory over Fulham on the first day of the Premier League campaign seems to have calmed the nerves of Arsenal supporters. Even in the subsequent Premier League games, Arsenal’s new recruit fulfilled his role up to the mark and showed why he’s needed here and now. It now appears that Mikel Arteta could be the one having the last laugh.
Mikel Arteta signed Willian because he knew the player would perfectly suit his plans from the get-go. There’s no need for a bedding-in period or particular routine for him to find a rhythm in his game unlike Nicolas Pepe or Bukayo Saka. The Brazilian is a proven Premier League winner and Arteta needed that in his squad. Chelsea’s loss became Arsenal’s gain. The Spaniard expressed his excitement about working with him:
“He has very special qualities, he has experience in this league.”
“If there is something with him it is that he is always available. He is a player that does not miss football matches. Last season at Chelsea you could see the amount of games that he played.”
Against Fulham, Willian reminded those fans, who doubted his qualities, of his potent nature and cutting edge in the final third and had a hand in all three goals. It was his picture-perfect deft long pass which found Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to score Arsenal’s third goal against Fulham.
His first-ever game for Arsenal, two assists, three chances created, seven final third passes. The display against Fulham was a perfect case study of just why Arteta pushed for Willian even though he has a plethora of young wingers to call on, although the Brazilian has not been able to replicate the same form for the latter games.
Arsenal supporters have been crying out for some creativity, and while players such as Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka have certainly offered such, none can match Willian’s experience and grade. The Brazillian may originally line-up on the right-wing, but his influence extends much further than that.
Willian has constantly shown that he possesses the capabilities and the positional understanding to become the link-man between attack and midfield, always offering an option between the lines. He may have appeared to play as a right-winger, but he continuously drifts infield to operate in tight spaces.
That is the hallmark of Willian’s game, he offers so much going forward. Whether it’s drifting in-field to thread a fine pass, linking up with his teammates, or marauding about on the outside, taking on his marker and providing some telling crosses into the box.
There is a unique quality in Willian’s game, exactly what Arsenal needed all this time. His technical abilities always seem to go unnoticed, the dazzling footwork and eye-catching pieces of brilliance. It’s why he’ll form a devastating understanding and partnership with Aubameyang.
Arsenal’s forwards may be on the other side of their prime years with Willian aged 32, Aubameyang aged 31, and Lacazette only turning 29 in May, but their experience when it matters most, the know-how, and confidence in front of goal could well propel Arsenal to new heights this campaign.
Since the start of 2016/17, only two players have created more chances in the Premier League than Willian’s 271. He is amongst the most prolific players in terms of passing actions that lead to shots, something Arsenal need desperately, a player to regularly produce with their magical misfit maestro Mesut Ozil seemingly incompatible with Arteta’s vision for the Gunners.
What will prove most vital for Mikel Arteta, as he pointed out in his comments above, is that Willian rarely gets injured. Every season, he is always available for selection. His injury towards the end of last season (some debating whether he was injured with his impending departure looming) was the first in a long while. He’s reliable and is amongst the most underrated performers in the current Premier League era.
Do Arsenal fans still have their reservations over the Willian signing? It may be too early to judge him just yet, but the Brazilian’s capture may ultimately prove to be a stroke of genius from Mikel Arteta.
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