Mikel Arteta fancied Willian at Arsenal from the outset.
When word got out that talks over a new deal at Stamford Bridge were stalling, which at the time was coinciding with football’s postponement and the resulting financial uncertainty it placed on clubs, Arsenal’s name began to crop up.
Free agents, loan moves and swap deals were the holy grail of the summer transfer window. When the opportunity arose to snap up a Premier League regular of seven years for no outright fee, the experience Willian possessed was invaluable to Arsenal. Namely, Arteta.
An eye-watering contract for someone aged 32 was required to lure him across the capital, raising eyebrows that remain in Carlo Ancelotti territory ten matches on from his debut.
Upon completion of the deal, Arteta told the official Arsenal website:
"“I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us. 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.”"
In essence, an immediate impact. Given his age, he’s hardly going to be making a difference in three years’ time. If anyone needed evidence of Arteta’s thinking, an opening day start ahead of Nicolas Pepe confirmed his intentions.
That was Willian’s most effective game for Arsenal. Against Fulham. Who are crap. Apologies to the Cottagers, but we’re not going to herald the Brazilian for that display all too much.
He’s been mostly pants since.
Starting every Premier League game he’s been available for, what it is he ‘brings’ to the team has yet to be discovered. We know what he can bring, but he hasn’t exactly delivered on that front.
Comparisons were inevitable, sadly; he’s more tactically aware then Pepe, more varied in his approach and works hard off the ball. Does that mean he’s any good? No, it doesn’t. Does he have sudden moments of flair? Try again.
His best display for the club came in the final 75 minutes of Old Trafford where, having recovered from a mistake-laden opening period, he settled and did all the dirty work and simple elements spot on.
Against Aston Villa, he was the worst player on the pitch. Believe me, that’s saying something.
They were all atrocious, but Willian did nothing right. Passes astray, a negative attitude and seemingly forgetting his focus at his Albemarle Street restaurant, how he stayed on the pitch for 65 minutes goes beyond comprehensibility.
We can’t deny that this apparent ‘difference’ Willian was expected to make by this point hasn’t materialised. All signs pointing towards a foolish piece of recruitment that will haunt the club until 2023.
Yet, instead of berating him to the hills and back – especially after seven league starts – a certain degree of fortitude is required. I can’t say I’m confident he’ll get much better, but there are those still calling for patience with Pepe and the Ivorian has had 44 more games to prove himself.
Getting off the fence, almost nobody will opt against falling on the ‘flop’ side of the argument. Me neither. This impact – at least with matters on the pitch – has been non-existent, but he isn’t an entirely lost cause yet. He shouldn’t be starting matches, oh no, but the inconsistent Willian has to be consistent eventually.
Throw in that the attacking formula Arteta is implementing is so dire and motionless, that Willian hasn’t been granted a fair crack of the substantiation whip. How different will he be once there is a genuine focal point in attack and inside runners to free up space? Let us wait for a rejig in the system then, if all else fails, we’ll berate him again.