As Arsenal prepare for their second visit to St Mary’s in 3 days, the fanbase will be hoping that Arteta reverts to the team that had been winning in the Premier League. There has been a collective annoyance that the manager’s team selection for Saturday’s FA Cup Fourth Round tie, rather let his team open to a surrendering of the trophy, hard won in the early summer. Despite there being numerous changes from the impressive win over Newcastle, one man, more than any other perhaps, represents the meek surrender of the cup – Willian.
Many of the Arsenal faithful are queuing up to say, I told you so, believing in the summer that a three-year investment, in the Brazilian, another client of a certain agent, was a huge gamble, destined not to pay off. I must be honest and say that I am not in that number. Whilst I was not super excited by the signing, I was not averse to it and could understand Arteta’s logic. He was bringing in a serial winner, on the back of a good season for Chelsea, who knew the league, could hit the ground running and could we a mentor to the likes of Saka, Nelson, and Smith-Rowe.
There was also a suggestion that Willian had always wanted to play centrally, behind the striker, and with Ozil seemingly set to be side-lined, this again seemed logical. The player’s passing was good, but more he could add the dribbles and take-ons, so important, against defensive opposition and the low block. On paper the signing might I have been an astute one and on the evidence of Willian’s opening day display at Fulham, it looked promising.
However, that September high has proved the most incredible false dawn. The player has looked entirely devoid of the positivity and confidence I would associate with him. Initially I hoped it was simply getting used to a new team and teammates and I even believed in Arteta playing him to find his form. After all a player who was so strong in 2019/20 could not be this bad in 20/21 could he?
Frustratingly, the answer appears to be in the affirmative. In every conceivable comparable statistic Willian is underperforming on last season, except perhaps completed back passes! I do not need to quote the stats in their depressing glory but suffice to say in the key areas where the Brazilian could have been adding to the innovation and creation; dribbles, attempts to beat a man, incisive key passing and particularly shooting (a previous key strength) he is way down on his last campaign. The one stat that has been cited often since Saturday is that in 20 outings for Arsenal, Willian has had just 2 shots on target, but more telling is that he is averaging 0.5 shots per match in the Premier League, when for Chelsea in 2019/20 he averaged 2 per match.
For me however, and I suspect any Arsenal fan, or indeed football fan, poor form, or even average ability can be forgiven if one can see a player is giving his absolute maximum. This is where Willian falls down most of all. Earlier in the season, I thought it was a lack of fitness after injury but now it actually appears to be lack of effort or even disinterest. I do not wish to believe a player who has scale the heights with club and country is happy to collect a big pay cheque for little effort but that is how it appears. Giving up on winnable causes, shoulders dropping, taking the easy option, and not chasing back are not the attributes we want in any player fortunate enough to wear the cannon but that is what we currently have with Willian.
With Ødegaard arriving and Smith Rowe thriving, Willian may find himself third in line for the central attacking role, and behind Saka, Aubameyang, Martinelli and Pepe for a wide berth. In a purely footballing sense, I no longer care, as I do not have favourites as such and just want Arteta to select on merit and what works best for the team and the formation for each match. Indeed, like any fan my loyalty would always be with the homegrown players who play for the shirt, and we have that right now.
It is a massive concern however, so soon after Ozil, to have another of the club’s most expensive assets, in terms of wages, potentially not playing any football. The next few weeks will prove very interesting as until now and even after Saturday’s defeat at St Mary’s Arteta has defended his underperforming star, but the proof will be in the continued selection, or otherwise of Willian Borges da Silva.
This article is the unedited version of Tuesday’s Fan Column for Sun Football here.
Passionate fifty-something Arsenal supporter who has been making the journey to N5 regularly since the early 1980s – although his first game was in 1976. Always passionate when talking about The Arsenal, Dave decided to send a guest blog to Gunnersphere in the summer of 2011 and has not stopped writing about the Gunners since.
He set up his own site – 1 Nil Down 2 One Up – in February 2012, which he moved on in 2016 to concentrate on freelance writing and building Gunners Town, which he launched with Paul in 2014.
The objective of GT was to be new and fresh and to give a platform for likeminded passionate Arsenal fans wishing to write about their team. Dave still of course, writes for the site himself and advises the ever-changing writing crew.