Chelsea’s season came to an end last night as they lost 4-1 to Bayern Munich in the Champions League. 7-1 on aggregate.
After scrolling through hilarious memes suggested Frank Lampard’s side change their new shirt sponsors from 3 to 7-Up my thoughts quickly turned to Willian.
If reports are to be believed the Brazilian is set to follow in the footsteps of Petr Cech and David Luiz in making the journey from West to North London. The announcement is expected to be made in the coming days.
On the face of it a 32-year-old right winger seems like a strange signing, regardless of how good he has been for Chelsea in the past.
We already have Nicolas Pepe, Reiss Nelson Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and of course Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to operate on the flanks. Not to mention Emile Smith-Rowe and Joe Willock who have proved they can play there. As well as, this signing a player coming towards the end of his career seems to be against our policy of promoting youth from within.
So how does Willian fit in? Let’s take a look…
Where might he play?
Well a lot of it depends on the future of the front three who started the FA Cup final victory over Willian’s current employers. Pepe is – at time of writing – the only one guaranteed to stay next season so it seems unlikely that the Brazilian will slot in there.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has lined up on the left under Mikel Arteta, which in theory would be the other position Willian could play. However, the increasing likelihood that Arsenal’s player of the season will sign a contract extension puts the future of Alexandre Lacazette in doubt.
Reports have linked the Frenchman with a move away from the Emirates, with some suggesting that he could be used as a makeweight to seal the signing of Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid. Should Lacazette leave then surely Arteta would have to move Aubameyang into the centre, as Eddie Nketiah is still too raw to lead the Arsenal line on a weekly basis.
Hypothetically Willian could play in the number 10 position now that Mesut Ozil seems frozen out permanently. But if Mikel Arteta wants to replicate a Guardiola-style 4-3-3 at the Emirates then this seems unlikely.
So, it would appear the spot our team for Willian is on the left-hand side. This is actually the position where he made his name in Ukraine and Russia with Shakhtar Donetsk and Anzhi respectively. In fact he has been more effective for Chelsea on the left, scoring 0.21 goals per 90 compared to 0.1 one the right.
What does he bring?
I know I seem to bang on about creativity a lot in these blogs but the lack of it in this Arsenal side is depressingly clear. Arsenal finished the season twelfth in the table for big chances created with just 48. By way of comparison Mikel Arteta’s former employers Manchester City topped it with 108.
He might not be particularly known as a creative number 10, but this is something Willian can definitely bring to the team. Only five players produced more shot creating actions per 90 (5.02) than the Brazilian last season.
In Nicolas Pepe we have a player capable of creating chances from set plays, but there is no equivalent when the ball is in open play. Willian unexpectedly excels in this field again. He is third in the Premier League for live ball passes that lead to shots. He’s not bad at free kicks either and scored four in his time at Stamford Bridge.
This is particularly exciting when you combine these stats with the goal-scoring capabilities of Aubameyang. Despite our poor chance creation rates the Gabonese international still managed 29 goals last season. Just imagine how many he’ll get when we actually start giving him more chances to score!
In his time at Chelsea it’s fair to say that Willian has seen a lot. Manager meltdowns, player revolts, Danny Drinkwater… That’s all without mentioning the array of trophies he’s managed to amass in that time.
You need to be mentally tough to survive at a club as consistently bonkers as Arsenal, but with seven years’ experience at Stamford Bridge under his belt, it’s fair to say he’s been well trained.
Throughout that period there have been many times where the Brazilian could justifiably have kicked up a fuss. When Antonio Conte switched to a 3-4-3 formation in 2016 Willian found himself out of the team in favour of Eden Hazard and Pedro. Despite not being a regular though, he made consistent contributions off the bench as Chelsea went on to win the Premier League.
He performs a similar role for Brazil, where his low-key temperament is a welcome distraction from the PR circus that often follows around Neymar. In fact, that is where he spent time working with our current technical director Edu who has apparently vouched for his good character.
We’ve already established all of the options Mikel Arteta will have at his disposal in the wide areas, so it’s likely that Willian’s role at Arsenal will be as a bit-part player. Having someone with the personality to do that will be welcomed by our new manager after his clashes with the likes of Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi.
The hope is that Willian will use this to pass his experience onto youngsters like Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli as they seek to establish themselves as first team fixtures in the coming seasons.