Arsenal have signed Willian from Chelsea on a free transfer. However, details have emerged that the Gunners will be potentially paying Willian a staggering £35 million if the Brazilian sees out his three-year contract with the club. Even though Willian would be earning a base weekly salary of £100,000, which is slightly lower than the £120K he earned at Chelsea, Arsenal have offered him a colossal signing-on fee on top of the appearance fees and loyalty bonuses he will receive. It makes the Brazilian the second-highest earner at the club, only behind Mesut Özil.
The move has left me feeling divided.
On one hand, Willian is a fantastic Premier League player who will add value to any Premier League team. Why? He is both a clinical finisher and a creative influence for setting up chances. Last season, the winger scored 11 goals and made 9 assists in all competitions for the Blues. Let’s put that in perspective. Only Tammy Abraham has scored more goals (18), and Christian Pulisic has made more assists (10) than the Brazilian. Also, 9 of his goals and 7 of his assists came in the Premier League, indicating that Willian still has a juice in his tank to play in the English top-flight despite turning 32 years old five days ago, on the 9th of August (coincidentally, Singapore’s National Day). Which sort of brings me to my other point…
I’m not at all convinced that a 3-year deal was best for a player who’s best days might soon be behind him. Of course, I may be wrong, and Willian would go on to become an even better player. In this day and age, footballers are breaking boundaries, and several stars are still playing at the highest level well into their mid-thirties. However, other issues make me apprehensive about this move.
The biggest one is probably the fact that Arsenal have recently let go of 55 members of their staff so that they can open the door for squad development after a “significant” loss in match-day revenue. Neil Humphreys from The New Paper says it really well: “Arsenal’s job cuts simplified matters. Their priorities are clear. It really is about the money.” I agree with him. Arsenal’s actions are a disgrace, and Stan Kroenke should be ashamed of himself. Don’t get me wrong. If the Arsenal board believe that Willian deserves £35 million, I have no qualms that they paid him that amount. What i take issue with is that he was acquired at the expense of the full-time jobs of 55 people.
Besides the moral and ethical principles behind this deal, there is also the question of where will Arteta deploy Willian. The Brazilian is most effective if he plays down the right flank. Despite a shaky start, Nicholas Pépé has blossomed in the right-wing role towards the end of the season. Even though he has not replicated his goal-scoring form at Lille, the Ivorian has been an outstanding player for the Gunners overall. His displays in the latter stages of the FA Cup have shed light as to why Arsenal shelled out a club-record £72 million for his signature. The Ivorian can play as a left-winger, but his playing style has always been one where he cuts in and unleashes powerful shots with his preferred left foot. If Willian comes on board, would he be content to play as a left-winger?
If Willian can indeed be an effective left-winger, then Arsenal would have solved a huge issue. Arsenal currently only have Saka who is good enough to play on the left. However, I think Saka plays better as an attacking left-back rather than a winger. Saka and Willian on the left flank is a scintillating prospect for Gooners and a frightening one for the opposition defenders.
That, unfortunately, raises another question: where does that leave Kieran Tierney? Yes, Injuries are inevitable and chances will be aplenty since last season’s FA Cup triumph means that Arsenal will be in next season’s Europa League. Yet, Tierney and Saka are at a ripe age where regular first-team football is necessary for them to develop and fulfill their potential.
If Arsenal are bringing Willian as a backup option, then this would not be a huge issue, but it is clear that he is not a bench warmer. On paper, Willian left Chelsea because they were unwilling to meet his demands of a 3-year contract. Let’s be real, though. That was not the only reason why. With the signing of Hakim Ziyech, Willian was more or less replaced before he left.
On top of that, Chelsea are currently overloaded with attacking options. Currently, Chelsea have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Timo Werner, Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Olivier Giroud, and Michy Batshuayi. Add Hakim Ziyech, and potential new arrival Kai Havertz to the mix and that’s 9 players to occupy the attacking berths in the formation.
Yes, I am well aware that only Hakim Ziyech is a natural right winger of the lot. However, Lampard tends to start matches with a 4-3-3 formation. With only 3 to 4 starting places (RW, LW, CAM, ST) up for grab, Lampard may have to field some players out of position to placate their needs for playing time. Hudson-Odoi was fielded as a right midfielder in the recent Champions League tie with Bayern Munich. We could see Tammy Abraham deployed there as well since Werner will most likely play as the starting forward.
I think signing Willian on a short-term deal would have been the best move. Willian still has at least another good season left in him and he is an excellent addition for the gunners for the 2020/21 campaign. However, he is not a long-term option for Arteta and the Spaniard needs players who can be part of a long-term rebuild of the club. Willian’s impact is likely to be a short term one but I think it is more important that the club use Willian’s acquisition to buy some time in finding the right kind of winger to lead the club forward for the next few years. I still think it’s appalling that Arsenal dished out that much on Willian after laying off 55 members of their staff, especially since it would only cost a fraction of Willian’s wages to keep them on board.