Will Willian significantly improve Arsenal or will he be a bit-part player? We look at how the Brazilian fits into Mikel Arteta's plans.
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What’s the deal?
Arsenal signed Willian on a three-year contract following the expiration of his contract at Chelsea.
It was reported that Barcelona were also keen on Willian, who wanted a three-year deal at Chelsea but was only being offered two years.
Where exactly does Willian fit at Arsenal?
Most likely in a variety of roles.
Towards the end of the 2019/20 season Mikel Arteta mainly selected a front three of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and club-record signing Nicolas Pepe.
There’s also Bukayo Saka, who impressed greatly in the last few months of the campaign, Eddie Nketiah, who might be pushing for a bigger role up front, and Mesut Ozil – remember him?
In fact, Arsenal’s attack has arguably been their most reliable area in recent years, at least in terms of goals scored.
When it comes to chances created, however, they ranked 16th last season, which is one area where Willian could improve the side.
Willian was a key player for Chelsea at the end of last season
Image credit: Getty Images
The Brazilian ranked first for key passes in both the Premier League (76) and Champions League (19) for Chelsea last season. He also ranked seventh in the Premier League for chances created with 76, while Arsenal’s best performer was Pepe with 40.
Willian’s crossing is one of his strengths, but he is also direct and not afraid to take on defenders – all qualities that could come in useful when Arsenal are faced with a deep-lying defence.
Then there’s his versatility. Although he largely finished the season on the right for Chelsea, he can play anywhere across the front line and even as a No 10, a role Arsenal have somewhat struggled to fill without Ozil.
While he was occasionally a frustrating player during his seven years at Stamford Bridge, his form after the restart was fantastic as he chipped in with goals and assists.
In a season that is set to be more compact and busier than most, he not only brings plenty of quality, but also some much-needed experience.
This is a quality that was highlighted by Frank Lampard when he left Chelsea.
“When I came in and we had a lot of issues in terms of younger players, players back from loan, transitional elements to the group, Willian was one you looked at and relied on in terms of his experience and quality. He has shown me that all year,” said Lampard.
So a good signing then?
However, with his experience comes the fact he is 32, plus there are questions over the influence of his agent Kia Joorabchian in the deal, considering he has already secured moves for David Luiz and Cedric Soares to the Emirates.
There could also be a question over whether Arsenal really need to strengthen their attack, given their problems last season – and in many previous seasons – appeared to be in other areas.
But Arsenal technical director Edu could hardly have been more glowing in his assessment of Willian.
It will take time but with Willian, we’ve started a big process. We’ve identified the needs in the squad and he’s the one to start to rebalance the squad as we want to. I am really excited and really happy to have a player like Willian because I’m convinced he’ll be the one to impact the team straight away.
Arteta too sounds thrilled to have Willian on board for a number of reasons.
“We had a clear intention to strengthen in the attacking midfielder and the winger positions [and] he is a player that gives us a lot of versatility, he can play in three or four different positions.”
“As well he brings a lot of quality and something that we need, which is winners.”
The Arsenal manager also praised Willian’s ability to play in tight spaces, unlock defences and create overloads, as well as his character.
“I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us…the kind of player that when things get difficult in the game that wants to take responsibility, wants the ball and wants to win the game for the team and I think it is going to be a really good lift for all the players as well in terms of the quality we are bringing to the squad.”
Glowing almost doesn’t cover it.
Say what you want about the results and performances, but Arteta has clearly had a plan since he arrived at Arsenal in December – and Willian fits into that plan.