I said back in February that a player I can see us going for is Willian. Six months later, we're on the verge of capturing the Brazilian international. Now, I'm not an ITK. I was just reading in between the lines because when you look at it:
1. The player wanted a 3 year contract, Chelsea were only willing to offer him a two year deal.
2. He and his family felt settled in London and wanted to ideally stay there for as long as possible.
3. Willian is represented by Kia Joorabchian, who as we all know is close to those above at Arsenal.
His preference to stay in London put two clubs in the frame - Tottenham and Arsenal. With the signing of Bergwijn in January, Spurs' requirement for a senior winger reduced - they already had Lamela, Son and Lucas.
Arsenal, on the other hand only have Nicolas Pepe, who himself is new to the league. The likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Reiss Nelson showed great promise, but they're all still learning their trade. There's also a good chance we see Martinelli as a center forward and Saka in attacking midfield. As a result, one can understand why Mikel Arteta was on the lookout for a wide player.
While Kia Joorabchian probably had some role to play in helping beat off competition, the reliable David Ornstein in his column for The Athletic states that Arteta asked for the signing of Willian with the club keen on delivering it.
Being very fortright, Willian isn't my preferred choice for winger. Mainly due to his age and contract length. Now if this was a 26 year old, I would view this signing very differently, as would most fans.
But having said that, this is a player that has had at least 40 appearances a season since joining Chelsea in 2013. In these 7 years, Willian has helped the blues win 2 Premier league titles, 1 league Cup, 1 Europa league and an FA Cup. He's been an integral part of each of these runs. And there's really no sign of a decline.
In this time period, Chelsea have seen the likes of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Maurizio Sarri and Frank Lampard. Apart from Conte under whom he had a falling out, Mourinho, Sarri and Lampard rated his qualities and was a regular in their respective sides. Willian also has over 70 caps for Brazil. I think to say that he's just an 'average' player is extremely harsh.
He's a hard working versatile wide player, one that also has the ability operate in the half spaces nicely which is why some say he could even be deployed as an attacking midfielder. I think he can be a frustrating player in the final phase at times, but having said that Willian created 76 chances this season, ranking 7th in the league. That's better than anyone in our squad.
I think he definitely helps us more in wide areas when we're playing the ball out from the back. While Aubameyang-Lacazette-Pepe as a front three are showing some signs of improvement together, there is only one ball carrier there in Pepe. Say what you will about Willian, but his low center of gravity and quick feet means it is very hard to dispose the ball off him and this can only help us in our quest for ball progression.
So what Willian will bring to us is work rate, experience, ball progression, threat from set plays and creativity. He's also a very useful player in big games when we're going to need everyone in our side to put in those extra yards off the ball. To suggest that this signing is purely due to Kia Joorabchian is reckless.
This is a player that is highly rated by top coaches in the world - you don't make so many appearances season after season at a club like Chelsea and win what he has won unless you have something about you. Also remember, Chelsea wanted to ideally KEEP HIM, he's been one of their best players this season and powered them to Champions league football when everyone wrote them off.
Personally, there are other alternatives I would take when it comes to signing a wide player, but they will all come at a price. Willian is a free agent and even if you want to include wages and other fees, you commit lesser in the short term. Arsenal have other priority areas in central midfield and defence where I think the bulk of our resources will be allocated to.
In that regard, Willian is a viable option that will improve us in the short term at the very least. My main reservation is the 3 year deal, whether he can sustain his level till 35. But I'd rather we sign Willian over no wide player and since Arteta wants him, I will trust in Mikel.