Arsenal announced the signing of Willian to a three-year deal on Friday. The former Chelsea star makes the switch from west London to north London on a ‘free’ transfer. Willian, now 32, joins David Luiz, Olivier Giroud, Petr Cech, William Gallas, and Ashley Cole as players to make the direct switch between the two rival clubs.
The Brazilian playmaker was certainly a success during his time with Chelsea. Bought for $39 million from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala in 2013, Willian went on to score or assist 125 times in just over 300 total matches for the Blues. Not only has he provided a plethora of goals/assists, but the attacker was also a mainstay in a Chelsea team that collected five major trophies in his seven seasons with the club.
Although the Brazilian’s best years may be behind him, he has proven to be very productive in the autumn of his career. In fact, the then 31-year-old player led Chelsea in assists, key passes, passes into the penalty area, shot-creating actions, and fouls drawn during the 2019/20 Premier League campaign.
In terms of where he will fit in at Arsenal, Willian could see time at multiple positions on the pitch. A natural right-sided winger, the Brazilian can also be deployed in the advanced number 10 position, as well as out of the left flank. During the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons under manager Antonio Conte, Willian was actually deployed more as a central playmaker than a winger. Maurizio Sarri then played him on the left flank in 30 of his 55 total appearances during the 2018/19 campaign.
Head coach Mikel Arteta reiterated Willian’s flexibility in a statement following his signature. “I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us,” Arteta claimed. “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.”
This creativity and flexibility will be a welcome sight for Arsenal fans. Willian’s 76 key passes for Chelsea last season ranked 7th in the entire Premier League. Arsenal’s team leader in this creative category was Nicolas Pepe with 40.
Speaking of Pepe, some have suggested that the move for Willian could squeeze the Ivory Coast international out of the team’s starting XI. This will most likely not be the case. Pepe may have endured a tough start to his freshman season in north London, but he finished very strongly and should continue to be a regular in Arteta’s best XI.
Where Willian plays will most likely come down to which formation Arteta chooses to deploy. The Brazilian could feature as a number 10 in a 4-2-3-1, further forward on the flanks in a 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, or possibly even as a number eight in the aforementioned 4-3-3.
Wherever Arteta plays Willian, he should help a team that struggled to create quality scoring chances throughout the 2019/20 season. Though 32, the playmaker has a solid injury history and doesn’t appear to show signs of slowing down just yet.
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