Arsenal announced their first foray into the transfer window, by announcing the signing of Chelsea winger Willian. The Brazilian winger joins on a free transfer, after failing to agree a new deal with Chelsea.
Willian joins Arsenal on a three-year deal with a reported salary of £100,000-a-week, though reports are conflicting as to whether this is accurate, with other outlets reporting that Willian could be on as high as £220,000-a-week.
Willian’s career has been very impressive, staring off at Corinthans in Brazil in 1998, he eventually broke into the first team in 2006, where his performances caught the eyes of Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine, who signed him for €14m.
Willian played for the Ukrainian club for six years, registering an impressive 37 goals in 221 games. Willian’s time in Ukraine was profitable as he left with four league titles, three Ukrainian Cups, two Ukrainian Super Cups and a UEFA Cup before he leaving to join Anzhi Makhachkala.
His time at Anzhi Makhachkala was not as profitable as his time in Ukraine and was only there for one season before the club had to transfer list both Willian and the rest of the team, owing to crippling financial woes.
From there, Willian joined Chelsea for £30m. This transfer was not without controversy, as Tottenham Hotspur had been the favourites to sign the Brazilian and had even started the process of completing his medical before Chelsea swooped in at the last minute and gazumped the North London side.
Willian had an impressive career at Chelsea, which saw him win two Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a UEFA Europa League, though he played no part in Chelsea’s 2-1 loss to Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.
Head-Coach Mikel Arteta said: “I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us, we have been monitoring him for the past few months, we had a clear intention to strengthen in the attacking midfielder and the winger positions [and] he is a player that gives us a lot of versatility, he can play in three or four different positions.”
These words are interesting, as they suggest that Willian is likely to be played in a more central position for Arsenal. This is most irregular, as Willian is usually deployed on the wing, so Arteta’s decision to potentially convert the Brazilian into a number ten or a central attacker is a peculiar one and one that seems more focused on phasing out Mesut Özil, who has been out of favour under Arteta since the restart.
The move is not totally without justification, however. Willian has played in the position before and his stats from last season suggest that he is the breath of fresh air that Arsenal have been so desperate for since Arteta took over.
Willian was ahead of the Arsenal squad in terms of chances created, penalty area entries and big chances created and was second only to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in terms of takes-ons completed, touches in the opposition box and shots on target, Willian could prove to be every bit the player Arsenal need.
Though there is significant controversy surrounding Willian, owing to his age, contract-length and his agent Kia Joorabchian, who already has four clients on Arsenal’s books with David Luiz, Cédric Soares, an unnamed academy player and Technical Director Edu, it is also worth pointing out that Willian’s profile is not one you can find every day.
Willian is a Premier League proven player with bags of experience, a full international for his country and available on a free transfer and willing to play under Mikel Arteta. It’s fair to say that Willian’s profile is one that Arsenal would have struggled to find elsewhere and the lack of a transfer fee could prove useful, as the club plans a reportedly massive overhaul.
In fact, when welcoming Willian to the club, Technical Director Edu said: “It will take time but with Willian, we’ve started a big process. We’ve identified the needs in the squad and he’s the one to start to rebalance the squad as we want to.”
These quotes seem to suggest that this could be a summer of a major overhaul at the Emirates Stadium, with players such as Rob Holding, Lucas Torreira, Mattéo Guendouzi, Sead Kolašinac and Mohamed Elneny reportedly all listed transfers this summer.
His lack of transfer fee also means that Arsenal could find more luck in their pursuits of other players, with Atlético Madrid’s Thomas Partey and OSC Lille’s Gabriel Magalhães reportedly in the Gunner’s crossfires.
While Willian’s transfer does represent a fair amount of controversy and certainly comes with its own baggage, it’s a transfer that seems to suit Arsenal’s needs and fulfils one of Mikel Arteta’s transfer criteria this summer, Arsenal fans will just hope that Arteta and Edu’s faith in the player is rewarded by the player.