Like many, I was in favour of Willian joining Arsenal having seen his form in recent seasons. He was still an amazingly fit, talented player with bags of experience, and under the circumstances, a free transfer for that type of player was an absolute no brainer.
I even put some much-needed perspective in place to counteract my negative opinions of the former Chelsea players that made the hop from West to North London. Gallas, Benayoun, Cech, and Luiz had all arrived when their best years were behind them, but Willian was different, wasn’t he?
Well to date, No. Apart from his first full appearance against Fulham where he looked exceptional value, the Brazilian has laboured and delivered extremely average performances in an Arsenal shirt.
So what is it? The rotational system? The role? The existing players? Who knows but there’s something not right with this guy and it’s genuinely disappointing and frustrating.
I now feel like Chelsea have done it all over again, they’ve sold us a nice looking house with no floors or roof, not for the first time either. I just hope Arteta doesn’t see anyone else that he thinks might fit the bill at the Emirates. Kerry Dixon can still kick a ball in the local park or what about Gianfranco Zola, he could still be worth a punt, he’s only 54.
Seriously though, it looks like a deal that promised much but has delivered little and I’m trying hard to find a reason why he isn’t firing and also why he shouldn’t be offloaded at the earliest opportunity. Against Aston Villa, this versatile and technically gifted player passed to the opposition twice in the build-up to the first goal and he cut a tragic figure plodding about the pitch to no avail.
It’s also noticeable that he has taken a succession of terrible corners and awful free-kicks in recent matches and I for one would rather let Leno take the responsibility. That’s saying something because we all know that the German keeper’s footwork is like that of a hippopotamus in ballet shoes.
Nicolas Pepe arrived at a considerable cost (a club-record fee of £72m) and two seasons on, he has yet to justify half of that fee. There’s no doubt he has the talent and an exceptional left-foot, but he lacks consistency and sometimes, a sense of urgency. Such is his form that most observers believe his current value to be just £35m.
Again, the striker has shown flashes of form, but he is not the answer to Arsenal’s goal famine or a reliable provider for his more illustrious partners and as a result, fans continue to question his worth. Pepe has had more success from a dead ball situation but his ability to take a corner is the equivalent of a one-legged pirate on roller skates. Most supporters consider that there’s little to separate the pair at this moment in time and that if an opportunity came along to offload one, it would probably be decided on the flip of a coin.
The argument for Louis Zaha, who was Unai Emery’s preference instead of Pepe, tends to gather momentum but that ship has well and truly set sail. It’s a curious situation to be in because Arteta is well regarded by those in the game for his ability to get the best out of players, but it doesn’t seem to stretch to either of this pair.
One or both could come good eventually but with every game and opportunity that passes, the frustration grows, and at present, I’d put Pepe ahead of Willian in terms of potential, purely because he can learn. Willian is supposed to be the finished article and I still believe that he’s only playing to 40% of his capabilities.
If at the end of the season Arsenal are in the same position with neither making their mark, I’d be tempted to lose both and incorporate the youngsters such as Reiss Nelson or Ainsley Maitland-Niles. I desperately hope both find their form but Arsenal haven’t got time to take on more passengers, they’ve had over ten years of that.