There are few riskier investments than a high-profile footballer, but the returns from Arsenal's recent outlay in the transfer market will have caused consternation among their money men.
Sitting 11th in the Premier League coming into their trip to Leicester, having lost more matches than they have won, with the calendar due to be flicked over to March this week, Arsenal's stock seemed to be stuck on the downturn.
Those who commanded the largest investment, club-record signing Nicolas Pepe and 32-year-old Willian, who had signed a surprisingly lucrative, longer-than-expected three-year deal, were the worst offenders, providing very little bang for Arsenal's buck this season.
Lijnders backs Alexander-Arnold to be future Liverpool captain
- Arsenal recover from early howler to beat Leicester
- 'He totally deserves credit' - Arteta launches staunch defence of Willian
But, of late, as Arsenal look to revitalise their faltering campaign, the much-maligned pair have turned things up a notch and started to show what they can do, culminating in both playing a pivotal role in Sunday's 3-1 win at Leicester - a match that could reignite the Gunners' campaign.
While Arsenal have been in no way getting the results a club of their stature should be earning in recent months, the performances have improved markedly in comparison to their woeful showings at the start of the season, when the Gunners were much closer to the relegation zone than the top four.
Youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have been the main protagonists in that improvement, overshadowing their more experienced, substantially more costly team-mates. The starlets needed help, and just at the right time, Pepe and Willian especially are finally giving something back.
Man Utd to pounce for £30m star bargain from Fiorentina - Euro Papers
Willian has been particularly disappointing this season, and those inflated wages made him an easy target for fans' ire. But credit to the Brazilian - kept on the periphery of the team for much of the season - he has proven in the Gunners' morale-boosting Europa League win in midweek and Sunday's comeback success at Leicester, making an assist an each, he can still produce the goods, even in the twilight years of his career.
Remarkably, after skilfully setting up Pepe for Arsenal's third against Leicester, Willian has made the joint-most assists of any Arsenal player in the Premier League this season.
When Pepe inexplicably wielded the headbutt at Leeds in November, it looked a long road back into Mikel Arteta's and the fans' good books. Yet, exciting youngsters aside, Pepe has arguably been the Gunners' standout performer recently, even though he has not been in the side every week.
He is taking his chances to impress when he gets them. And progress at the end of the pitch that matters most is being made. His game-clinching strike at the King Power ensured Pepe equalled his Premier League goal tally from last season, scoring five goals this term in 13 fewer appearances - 18 this season, 31 in 2019-20.
Such contributions could not be better timed. Arsenal often finish the season well, but given the win over Leicester only moves them up to 10th in the table, they are going to have to have a near-perfect final 12 games to have any hope of breaking back into the top four. It will be how senior players like Willian and Pepe perform that will essentially make or break Arsenal's season.
"Nicolas Pepe has been really consistent," Arteta said. "This is what we want from him. He creates chances. I’m really pleased with him and the rest of the senior players.
The young players cannot do it all themselves. The senior players have to drive the boat forward, it can't be the other way around.
It does feel like a big day for Arsenal. The Leicester win was Arsenal’s first away victory against a team starting the day in the top three of the Premier League table since January 2015 – they were winless in their last 14 such games coming into the King Power trip.
The writing appeared to be on the wall as Youri Tielemans gave Leicester the lead, but led for once by their senior players, Arsenal turned things around. Some crucial games are to come, but the signs of revitalisation are good. A grand finale to what has been a very disappointing season is not out of the question.
'I am sorry' - Kepa apologises for League Cup substitution drama, commits to Chelsea
Darlow back home after hospitalisation with 'pretty awful' bout of Covid