Willian is finally an Arsenal player after his long-awaited free transfer from Chelsea was confirmed on Friday [August 14].
The Brazilian joins the Gunners on a three-year deal on a contract worth around £100,00-a-week.
At 32-years-old, the driving motivation behind the move was his experience and what this could offer the team as a whole, as well as the youngsters that are breaking through in similar positions to him. This, alongside the fact that he was a long-standing target of Mikel Arteta’s will serve as a major boost for his hopes going into next season.
“I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us,” the Arsenal head coach said.
“We have been monitoring him for the past few months, 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.
“It is the character that I want, 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.”
Heading into the summer transfer window, Arteta was clear that he didn’t want to make signings for the sake of making signings. Instead, he wanted to strengthen the squad in the areas that needed to be strengthened which would in turn, benefit the players already at the club.
Since moving to Chelsea in 2013, Willian has proven to be a very versatile attacking threat. Capable of playing at a high standard off the right wing, left wing as well as centrally and the one player this may benefit most is Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
The club captain – who is expected to sign a three-year contract extension in the coming days – has predominantly been played on the left since joining Arsenal in January 2018. Arsene Wenger, Unai Emery and Arteta have all used him in this role, in which he often drifts into more central areas to catch defenders off guard.
While, he has played exceptionally well in this role, Willian’s arrival may be the perfect opportunity for him to move central without losing the balance of the team. Scoring 70 goals in 109 games mostly from wide areas, having him lead the line instead has been a prospect fans have been waiting to be fulfilled as the 31-year-old has also proven that he can match Alexandre Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah’s defensive contributions from those areas.
This will potentially create more competition between Lacazette and Nketiah, however, this doesn’t have to be a negative. Throughout the second half of the 2019/20 season, this was encouraged by Arteta and as neither are as reliable as Aubameyang, using them more sparingly may work to his benefit. Considering the amount of football Lacazette played after his ankle injury last season, having more time to rest may help whereas Nketiah could look to make his mark in the Europa League and Carabao Cup.
Not expected to return to full training until the end of the calendar year, the mental approach to Gabriel Martinelli’s second season with the club will be also extremely important.
Although he was rewarded for such an impressive debut campaign with a new contract, that won’t erase the disappointment of being ruled out for the first half of next year. Last season, Martinelli highlighted David Luiz and Emi Martinez as key players who helped him adjust to life in London and adding another south American to the mix can only help.
Especially considering Willian may also be able to give more position-specific advise as well as the more personal pointers which will help him through recovery. There won’t be a rush to get the 19-year-old back onto the pitch in order to protect him but in the meantime, another sounding board – a fellow Sao Paolo native at that – could help ease the process.
When assessing the rotation options signing Willian will give Arteta, that will stand firmly as a positive. The only adverse effect his arrival could have, however, is in regard to Reiss Nelson.
Looking at the current squad, he is the player that fits Willian’s mould most. He has proven to Arteta that he can be effective off both the left and right wings and despite playing once there for the Arsenal first team, at Hoffenheim and in the academy, he excelled as a No.10. scoring 13 goals and making five assists in 23 games.
Although the 20-year-old wasn’t likely to be a regular starter in the Premier League at the start of the season, the potential game time he could get in 2020/21 may diminish with the Brazilian being direct competition to him. Europa League qualification will be an even bigger boost in this sense, and Nelson continuing to pave his way in that competition wouldn’t be too detrimental, but at the same time, getting minutes at his age will be vital.
That being said, during post-lockdown football, Arteta became very insistent on not wanting to overuse and risk ‘burning’ out his young players.
His usage of Bukayo Saka was a prime example as the 18-year-old started seven games and was unused substitute once in the first three-week spell. In the three-week spell that followed, he started twice, was subbed on once and was an unused sub three times [including both the FA Cup semi-final and final].
“I always say that young players need top players around them. That’s when you really get value from the young players and speed up the process around them,” Arteta told Arsenal Digital in regard to the impact Willian will have on younger players.
“So for the young players and talented players they will have to be playing around these types of players, it’s going to make the process, easier, quicker and more efficient, I’m sure about that.”