Brazilian winger Willian’s free transfer to Arsenal is set to be announced imminently, with the 31 year-old having agreed a three year contract worth £100,000 per week to move to the Emirates.
He will leave Chelsea once their Champions League campaign is concluded, after talks over a new deal at Stamford Bridge broke down.
The club were unwilling to meet Willian’s demand of a three year extension, which would see him remain a Blues player until he was 35.
According to the Daily Mail, Frank Lampard personally pleaded with Chelsea’s hierarchy to offer Willian the deal that he wanted but they refused to budge, allowing the Gunners to swoop in, making Willian the offer he wanted, with the option of extending his stay in North London for a fourth term.
The Gunners have seemingly won the race to secure the signature of the Chelsea man ahead of the likes of Barcelona and Inter Miami who were also interested, with the transfer set to be completed in the coming days. It represents a huge coup for the supposedly cash strapped club, landing such an established Premier League player for free from their near rivals.
Willian’s importance to Chelsea in recent years shouldn’t be overlooked. He has spent seven trophy laden years at Stamford Bridge, winning two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, an EFL Cup and the Europa League, whilst also scoring 63 goals in 339 games.
He was named Chelsea’s Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year in the 2015-16 season, and scooped Players’ Player of the Year again in the 2017-18 campaign.
Willian is a dynamic winger who has terrorised Premier League defences for years with his quick dribbling, explosive turn of pace and his direct style of play.
Operating on the right wing, Willian loves to dash past his marker and get to the byline before putting in a cross. Although right footed, he can also often be seen cutting inside and having a shot at goal on his weaker left foot. He was also known as a set piece specialists during his time at Chelsea, especially from free kicks.
Willian’s performances this season have shown that despite turning 32 on Sunday, the winger’s productivity hasn’t yet declined, something which would be attractive to Arteta, given that he is abandoning Arsenal’s routine transfer policy of signing younger, unproven players.
He registered nine goals this term, equalling his best ever goalscoring season for Chelsea, whilst also providing seven assists. He ended the season with a flurry, with four of his strikes coming after the restart.
He will add some much needed experience to Mikel Arteta’s young squad and a winning mentality which will serve the Gunners well off the back of their FA Cup win and their ambition to break back into the Top Four.
He will also be the perfect mentor for the likes of Nicholas Pepe, Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka, players who would love to emulate half of Willian’s success at Chelsea at the Gunners.
Being able to train with Willian everyday, having the opportunity to study his movements and his decision making up close as well as being able to pick his brains about how he made it to the top will no doubt have a positive impact on all the players, but especially young players coming through.
His arrival will help to create healthy competition, with at least four wingers now vying for two positions, leading players to raise their game to ensure that they retain their place in the side.
He knows the Premier League and London really well, and so won’t need time to adapt to the intensity of the league.
Although often deployed as a winger, he can also operate as an attacking midfielder and this versatility is particularly attractive to Arteta, given that he is actively looking for attacking options as he plans to switch to a more direct 4-3-3 system next season.
With both Dani Ceballos set to return to Real Madrid and Ozil out in the cold, Willian is seen as the ideal man to play the number ten role and add some much needed creativity to Arsenal’s solid midfield of Granit Xhaka and Ainsley Maitland Niles or Lucas Torreria.
He has been much more inventive than any of Arsenal’s attacking players this term, creating more chances than Pepe, Saka and Ceballaos. Arteta sees him as the perfect man to provide quality service to Aubameyang and Lacazette, who often have to feed off scraps for the majority of the game.
Willian also has a tremendous injury record, which seems to be another factor as to why Arsenal have no qualms about offering him a longer deal.
He has missed just four games through injury during his spell at Chelsea, a remarkable stat given the number of explosive movements the Brazilian makes during a game as well as the intensity of the league and congested fixture list.
He played 47 times for Frank Lampard’s men last year and has never played fewer than 40 games for the club in a season since arriving in 2013.
Lampard himself, is a big fan of the Brazilian, stating recently when quizzed on his departure:
“The way he is playing at the moment shows his worth to the squad and I hope we can get something.
“Whichever way, he has been a great servant to the club and if we can get there, I’ll be happy. If not, I will certainly wish him well as I have a lot of time for him.”
The only concerns for Arsenal fans will be Willian’s end product and his age. Although he had his best goalscoring season in the Premier League this term, he hasn’t ever hit double figures, which for a winger at a top club is worrying.
Another worry is of course his age, as whilst Willian is performing well now, will he still be playing as well when he is 35 in his last season at the club?
We have already seen how offering a large salary to a player who then goes off the boil can detrimentally affect the club, with Arsenal the prime example, as they still have Mesut Ozil on their books, earning £350,000.
His wages make it virtually impossible to move him on, as no other club would be willing to match his demands given his peripheral involvement in the first team.
Arsenal will be hoping that Willian can deliver performances which merit them splashing out almost £20 million in wages over the three years his contract would run.
Overall, whilst there are worries about Willian’s age and expected return, his signing should be viewed in a positive light.
Arsenal are getting a player who has experience of playing at the highest level for a number of years, a versatile winger who performs in the big games, will bring a winning mentality to the squad and who is rarely injured, all for free.
If he can be a key cog in Arteta’s midfield and they manage to secure Champions League football next term his signing may go down as one of the Gunners’ best in recent times.