Arsenal are close to completing the signing of Willian from rivals Chelsea
I’ll admit, when rumors first circulated of Arsenal’s interest in the 32-year-old Brazilian, I was on the fence about it, primarily due to his age. Furthermore, Willian appears to be following in the footsteps of Petr Cech and David Luiz, which poses an uncomfortable question: has Arsenal become a retirement home for past-their-prime Chelsea players?
Willian’s signing also seems quite convenient given that he is a client of Kia Joorabchian, the super-agent who has close relationships with Raul Sanllehi and Edu, and whose other clients include Luiz and Cedric Soares. Agents have become increasingly influential in modern football, and Joorabchian will no doubt be receiving a handsome cut for brokering the deal.
Despite these understandable misgivings, below are three reasons why I believe Willian will make a shrewd addition for Mikel Arteta’s squad.
3. He is an experienced, proven Premier League winger
Since signing from Anzhi Makhachkala in 2013, Willian has gone on to play 234 times for Chelsea in the Premier League, with a further 41 appearances in the Champions League. With such a wealth of experience under his belt, he could serve as a useful mentor to the likes of Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Reiss Nelson, who are all in the early stages of their Arsenal careers.
In the 2019/20 season, Willian was one of Chelsea’s best players during Project Restart and racked up 9 goals and 7 assists in the league, a respectable tally which actually ranks among the best of his career.
We know all about his exceptional ability from set-pieces (an area where Arsenal have room for improvement), but Willian is also more creative and direct than any of Arsenal’s other wingers. Per the Premier League website, he finished the season with 12 big chances created and 174 crosses, which rank 8th and 11th respectively. No Arsenal player ranked in the top 25 of either statistic.
2. It allows Arsenal to prioritize more pressing squad needs
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Willian is arriving on a free transfer. Yes, his wages won’t be cheap and there will certainly be bonuses and agent fees involved. But even when you factor all that in, he is still far more affordable than other wingers would have been, at least the experienced ones.
For example, Wilfried Zaha, who Arsenal have been linked with in the past, would easily command a price of £40m (and that’s being conservative).
While I am a big proponent of playing the kids whenever possible, we cannot purely rely on our youth to get us back into the Champions League. I like Reiss Nelson and think he has a bright future, but Willian is miles ahead of him at this point in time.
This is a financially attractive deal that solidifies Arsenal on the wing, allows our younger players more time to fully develop, and allows the club to use the bulk of its transfer funds on the midfield and defense, where there are far more question marks.
1. He has an immaculate fitness track record
Not unlike Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian is a remarkable athlete with an excellent injury record (knock on wood). Across all competitions in his 7 years at Chelsea, he never played fewer than 40 games in a season. As his numbers indicate, Willian is showing no signs of slowing down, and if he can maintain that fitness, it’s easy to see him playing at a high level for at least a couple more seasons.
Frank Lampard admitted that he wanted the player to stay, but Chelsea were unwilling to meet his contract length demands. According to multiple reports, Willian is a player that Arteta himself wants, and frankly, that should be enough for Arsenal fans to be on board.
I know, I know. A three-year contract for a 32-year old winger is far from ideal, no matter how you slice it. Yet Arsenal must balance its long-term plan with the immediate short-term goal of Champions League qualification in order to restore the club’s status as one of Europe’s elite.
Willian is already acclimated to the Premier League and is settled in London, so he’ll be ready to contribute from the get-go. If his quality and experience can help Arsenal get back into the top four, then the benefits of signing him far exceed the costs.