Talk about a way to wake up on a Sunday morning! A report from Fabrizio Romano that Willian is expected to leave Arsenal this summer might be better than waking up to an Arsenal win. The Brazilian winger has been a massive disappointment at the Emirates this season after joining the club on a free transfer from Chelsea over the summer.
It wasn’t a bad signing in theory. Arsenal needed a creative winger, and Willian was a proven Premier League veteran already in London, so there wouldn’t be much of a settling in period during a COVID-shortened preseason. The three year term and £220K per week for a 32-year old were concerning, but had Willian performed like he did last season at Chelsea (9g, 7a in 36 PL appearances) it would have been palatable, at least this season. And remember, it was a free transfer.
Unfortunately, it did not work out. This season seems to have been the proverbial “cliff year” for Willian: his production dropped off significantly. In 25 Premier League appearances at Arsenal, he’s tallied just the lone goal in a mostly meaningless match last week and notched only five assists, with three coming in the opening match of the season against Fulham. He seems to have lost a step of pace / explosiveness, which, for a guy who has made a living driving past defenders on the wing or quickly cutting inside, isn’t great. He has also developed a tendency to pass almost exclusively backwards, much to the frustration of Arsenal fans everywhere.
Willian has said several times how difficult of a season it has been for him, and Mikel Arteta has been consistent in his belief that Willian would find his level. Whether the difficult season caused the drop in quality or vice-versa is largely an academic, chicken-egg exercise because the bottom line is that Willian was not good enough. And those struggles were compounded by him being consistently picked ahead of younger players who could have used the minutes to develop and might have provided more attacking threat.
But the squad (and substitution) selection and contract terms aren’t Willian’s fault, and it’s not fair to hold them against him. That’s on Mikel Arteta and the Arsenal brass. As far as I could tell, Willian always played hard for Arsenal. The quality simply wasn’t there.
It’s tough to see Arsenal offloading Willian without paying some of his wages for the next two years or cancelling the contract through mutual consent to facilitate a move. Those two are becoming a regular occurrence, and as a general rule, they indicate that the Gunners have wage-structure and other front office issues to sort out.
But I still think Arsenal will be able to move the Brazilian. Per Fabrizio Romano, there’s interest in his services from clubs in Europe and in MLS, including Inter Miami, who were in on him last summer when he was available on a free. Given the source (Romano), I suspect the rumor is coming from Willian’s camp rather than Arsenal’s, which means that Willian is open to a move and removes that as a stumbling block. So it’s down to whether Arsenal want to move him (which if they don’t is an arguably bigger problem) and whether everyone can find a deal to be done.