The signing of Willian from Chelsea has generated a lot of discussion. The focus of conversation has been less to do with Willian’s quality and more to do with his age. Starting your much needed rebuild with a three-year deal for a 32-year old doesn’t speak to an approach ready to ‘outsmart the market’- not to mention that it is impossible to ignore the links to Willian’s agent.
I mentioned Edu's close relationship with Kia Joorabchian at Corinthians on last week's Arsecast and suggested it would be interesting to see if it's rekindled now.https://t.co/ZDBRYOLvfy
- 添斯蒂尔曼（@Stillberto）July 15, 2019
It calls to mind the old Eric Liddell quote about “having the instincts as servants and not the master of the spirit,” and that seems to hold true as an analogy for agent led-recruitment which should ideally be a servant and not a master. In isolation, Willian is an easy signing to rationalise but Arsenal are also said to be sinking significant resource into a new contract for 31-year old Pierre Emerick Aubameyang this summer.
That said, those players are not going to represent the same outlay as Özil or Mkhitaryan. On a reported £100,000 a week, Willian is not a stratospheric salary for a Premier League ready Bosman signing [though the add-on fees typical for this type of transfer will boost that sum nicely]. The Brazilian is absolutely adamant that he wants to finish his career with his beloved Corinthians, so an advantageous sale to the MLS or Qatar if the move hasn’t worked after a year or two is unlikely.
I am confident Willian will immediately improve Arsenal; but the question is whether he will continue to improve the team to the tune of £100,000 a week [+ add ons] worth of value when he is 34 years old. Though Arteta cited his versatility, Willian has pretty much always played in the same position as Nicolas Pepe, where the club also have a sizeable amount of resource invested, Willian has played on the left-wing but he has never played particularly well there.
The Brazilian is certainly the ‘type’ of winger Arsenal could use. He is effective at holding the width of the pitch on the right-hand side and both of the first-choice wide forwards- Aubameyang and Pepe- want to play inside. Strangely, the team has become very adept at being a potent counter-attacking force under Mikel Arteta and having Auba and Pepe as wide-forwards has played into this.
At international level, he was considered a key cog in the Brazil team because he provided a counter-balance to Neymar on the left, who has a lot of freedom to move inside. This changed a little once Tite took over the reigns of the team in 2016- Tite is a coach that prefers a ‘box-shaped’ attacking strategy, eschewing the more traditional wide player. Willian’s place on the right was given to Phillipe Coutinho because Tite preferred Coutinho’s tendency to move inside.
Willian is an outside player and if that is what Arteta wants, for the time being at least, he has secured one of the ‘purest’ examples in the Premier League. Arsenal do not have a lot of experienced depth in the forward positions. For the FA Cup semi-final and final Arteta left most of the Hale End graduates on the bench, favouring experience in their stead.
However, at this stage it is also worth waiting to see the totality of the summer transfer business before coming to a final judgement. With a restricted budget there will be cloth-cutting required and if taking Willian on a free transfer allows money to be spent on, say, a central midfielder and a centre-half then maybe it can be viewed as an expedient decision.
There is a difference, however, between asking for a player and being asked whether you would like him. My prediction would be that Willian does offer an immediate improvement to the Gunners attack but the debates about how to balance the attack will persist and whether Willian represents value for money in 2022 remains to be seen. Maybe the economic effects of covid will have smoothed by then and Arsenal feel short-termism is a worthwhile policy to pursue in the meantime- but it does feel like we’ve been down this road before.