The Willian problem
Without a shadow of a doubt, the signing of Willian at Arsenal has been one of the poorest decisions the club has seemingly made based upon the output which the Brazilian has given since his arrival.
Of course, the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing and at the time of his arrival a ‘Premier League-ready’ player to provide depth seemed sensible, but with the signings of Petr Cech and David Luiz, maybe signing another of their rival’s surplus could have been avoided the third time around.
Despite the deal being a ‘free’ transfer, significant wages and a signing on fee were reported to be in the region of £35 million across the three-year contract.
The relationship with the fans is continually breaking down and the frustrations grow further as players like Nicolas Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli remain on the bench whilst the out of form, former Chelsea man, is brought on.
This was the case against Leeds in yesterday’s 4-2 victory. Arsenal had conceded from a corner when Arteta decided to take off Emile Smith-Rowe and bring on the 32-year-old. 7 minutes later and Leeds scored again through Helder Costa.
Arsenal managed to hang on for the win but the frustrations that what should have been a routine victory after taking a huge lead grew in combination with Willian’s appearance.
Why is he preferred?
Some were no doubt surprised to see Nicolas Pepe benched for the match against Leeds, after the Ivorian had performed well in his previous 4 league matches, scoring twice. Although he was unable to be significantly impactful in the match against Aston Villa, he still provided energy and defensive cover.
Perhaps with the match with Benfica in midweek, Mikel Arteta was using the game to rest the former Lille forward for the game. We shall soon see. But what is more confusing is as to why Gabriel Martinelli, the young Brazilian who has shown excellent potential since his arrival from his homeland in 2019, did not come on for valuable minutes.
It is not expected that he will start the match in midweek with the form of Bukayo Saka, and now Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after his hattrick, dominating Arteta’s thoughts.
An explanation may lie in what Arteta spoke about earlier in the season. Speaking about Willian after the FA Cup victory over Newcastle he said, “I think he was improving and improving.”
“Today was the first time that he started the game. He had some good moments and he had some other moments that he needed more help sometimes, and some decisions weren’t the best. But we’re going to keep trying with him.”
That final sentence was certainly a promise Arteta is seemingly keeping. But 1 assist and no goals since the opening day with Martinelli and Pepe having showed much more, could be a sword Arteta falls on if he persists and his faith goes unpaid.
The money the club has invested in the player may well be a factor. Theories about possible appearance clauses have been touted on social media. Simply searching ‘Willian appearance clause’ into Twitter brings up a host of speculative reasons to explain the phenomenon.
The fact of the matter is Willian will be around until at least the summer and with the sport affected by the pandemic, expecting a club to match Willian’s wages to take him away from the club seems unlikely.
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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