Willian Impresses in Recent Performances
After a flurry of assists in recent performances, are we finally starting to get the best out of Willian?
Willian arrived in North London on a free transfer in August, from rivals Chelsea. The Brazilian put pen to paper on a three year deal, worth a reported £220,000 a week. With an impressive 63 goals and 62 assists in 339 appearances for Chelsea, Mikel Arteta was clearly happy with our new addition, saying that Willian is “a player who can really make a difference for us.”
Despite Arteta’s optimism, there was mixed emotions among the Arsenal fans. On one hand, we had secured the services of one of the best wingers in recent years, adding quality and experience to the ranks. On the other hand, we had signed an ageing player who would likely take minutes away from budding young talents, like Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson.
Willian kicked off his Arsenal career in style, providing two assists in a 3-0 win against Fulham on the opening day of the Premier League season. Fans were excited of what was to come, but this showing provided nothing but false hope. The 32 year-old’s performances dramatically declined, failing to make another goal contribution until the 29th November – two and a half months after his Arsenal debut. Willian’s performances were regularly slammed by the media and TV pundits, who always had a negative stat to discuss. Similarly, the highly reputable Charles Watts claimed it was the first time he’d watched a player that looked like he ‘wasn’t trying.’ Some tabloids even went as far as labelling the Brazilian ‘Arsenal’s worst ever signing’.
Despite cries from the Arsenal fans to drop Willian, Arteta persisted with the number 12 during our 7 game win-less run in the Premier League. Willian fell ill and missed both the Chelsea (H) and Brighton (A) games. Perhaps not coincidentally, Arsenal won both games (3-1 and 1-0, respectively), ending their dire league run. This finally saw Willian lose his starting berth in the side, to the relief of many Arsenal fans. It seemed like Arteta had finally had enough, claiming the winger “hasn’t found his best performances” this season.
However, it seems like this period on the bench has fired Willian up. After watching youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe carry the team forward, Willian has finally stepped up to the plate and delivered some strong performances. The 32 year-old has registered 1 assist in 4 of his last 5 performances (Benfica, Leicester, Burnley, Olympiakos). This recent flurry has seen Willian become Arsenal’s top provider this season, with 7 assists. Perhaps even more shocking, Willian (7) has registered more assists in his Arsenal career than Mesut Özil did in his last two seasons at the Emirates (6 assists in 59 games).
Following the Last-16 First Leg victory against Olympiakos, Willian was singled out for praise by the Gunner’s boss – “I think he was really good again tonight. I wanted to give him some continuity because he deserves it. He’s training really well.” Despite these recent performances, they are still coming at a cost. Gabriel Martinelli has only managed a combined 66 minutes in the Premier League and Europa League in 2021. Even worse, Reiss Nelson can’t even get himself onto the substitutes bench at the moment. Now 32 years-old, should Arteta look to be giving our young talents more minutes to develop, instead of persisting with an ageing and often underperforming Willian?
After a frustrating start to life in North London, Willian is finally starting to show why Arteta was desperate to secure his signature. Is Willian just going through a purple patch, or will he be able to sustain this level of performance for the remainder of the season? That much is yet to be seen. But for now, it is refreshing to see a player respond to criticism on the pitch. Keep it up Willian!
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons