Per ESPN’s Jorge Nicola, Arsenal are leading the race to sign Chelsea winger Willian. The Brazilian, however, is the perfect example of a progress stopper, which is precisely what the Gunners do not need.
I have written previously on ‘progress stoppers’. It is a phrase coined by former American Football head coach Bill Parcells. It defines players in a squad that prevent the development of a presently inferior but later to be superior player at the same position. You could make an argument that Arsenal have plenty of them.
For instance, Granit Xhaka might be a more capable central midfielder than Matteo Guendouzi at present, but the Frenchman’s ceiling is far higher than the man who currently starts ahead of him. Similarly, while Alexandre Lacazette is one of Arsenal’s most crucial players, Eddie Nketiah is more likely to be Mikel Arteta’s long-term starting striker.
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It is not to say that Xhaka or Lacazette or anyone else for that matter are poor players. Oftentimes, they are perfectly adequate players. But they do have a very defined ceiling, and there is a younger alternative waiting in the wings with much higher potential who needs to play to fulfil that potential. Thus, Xhaka, Lacazette and others are preventing their progress.
This week, the Gunners are being linked with another perfect example of a progress stopper, Chelsea winger Willian who will be available on a free transfer at the end of the season. Per ESPN’s Jorge Nicola, via The Metro, the north London club are leading the race to sign Willian this summer:
“Arsenal are a little ahead today, but everything is still open, especially because the pandemic affected the entire financial reality of football in the world.”
Whether Mikel Arteta and Raul Sanllehi truly pursue Willian this summer remains to be seen, but from almost every angle of analysis, it would be a major error in judgement. Willian will turn 32 in the summer so he is not a long-term solution in the wide positions, his wages will not be cheap, given that he can demand what he wants with no potential buyer paying a transfer fee, and, most pertinently, for Arsenal, he is a progress stopper.
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While the present wide options are not the most convincing, Nicolas Pepe has outrageous talent that needs to be invested in and nurtured, while Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Reiss Nelson all represent young and improving prospects who can become positively contributing players in the Premier League.
Nelson, especially, has struggled for game time this season, but Arteta is a clear admirer of his abilities and believer in his future. Arteta has been willing to start Nelson in the Premier League and FA Cup when he has been available, sometimes even at the expense of the £72 million Pepe. Willian would likely arrive as a back-up to Pepe, only pushing Nelson further down the pecking order. Willian is a decent Premier League player, — he has never provided more than 14 combined goals and assists in a season — but Nelson, with the right investment and patience, can be so much more.
Signing Willian, then, would be an illogical move. Old, expensive, and at a position where Arsenal have young and improving options who need to be trusted. He is the perfect example of a progress stopper, and that is precisely what the club should not invest in.