Willian to take centre stage at Arsenal with new defined role under Arteta

Willian bid farewell to Chelsea at the weekend, as he prepares to move across London to join Arsenal.

The Brazilian midfielder, 32, is set to pen a £150k-a-week deal to join Mikel Arteta’s FA Cup winners following the end of his contract.

Willian, who joined Chelsea in 2013, called time on his Blues career after seven years.

In an emotional exit statement on Sunday, he reflected on his time at Stamford Bridge, labelling them “seven wonderful years”, adding: “Today I am certain that it was the best of decisions.”

He continued: "I leave with my head held high, safe in the knowledge that I won things here and always did my best in a Chelsea shirt!”

On Monday, Chelsea labelled him "a class act" and "capable of the extraordinary".

But his departure comes after Blues bosses refused to sanction a three-year deal at the club, and Willian will now head to North London and the Emirates.

Despite offers from MLS and elsewhere in Europe, he is happy and settled in London and the Gunners are giving him what he was looking for: Three years and security.

Arsenal sporting director Edu and Raul Sanllehi both know his agent, Kia Joorabchian, particularly well, while Edu has previous with the player, from his time working with the Brazil national side.

Edu knows his character away from the game and is aware of Willian’s dedication to fitness and honing his craft.

He is also aware of his versatility and how the player has never truly believed his role at Chelsea, operating mostly from the right flank, was his best position.

When Willian initially arrived in Europe, at Shakhtar Donetsk, he often operated from a central area, dovetailing with fellow Brazilian Jadson. Nominally, it would be from the left, but effectively that entire flank would be free for buccaneering fullback Razvan Rat.

And when Jadson, didn't play, Willian would be the sole No.10.

Now, more than a decade later, it is from the centre where Arsenal see his future again, reckoning he has been somewhat mislabelled in recent years.

Rather than a wide forward they see him as a midfielder, a creator, while it remains his preference to play in a central role, filling the half spaces and positions behind opposing midfielders, rather than out wide.

Arteta won the FA Cup playing in a pragmatic manner, adopting a 3-4-3 formation for defensive security.

But long-term he wants to be much more pro-active, and favours utilising a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation as he attempts to turn a side who finished eighth in the Premier League back into top four contenders and, ultimately, title challengers.

The Spaniard is also aware of the need to add more craft and create more chances – Mesut Ozil ended the season as the side’s main chance creator in the Premier League, despite only playing 18 times.

Asked about a lack of creativity in the build-up to the final league game vs Watford, Arteta said: "They don’t lie, those stats. When you relate that to Arsenal it’s not good enough.”

That is where Willian will help, with Arsenal believing that a player who has never reached double figures in the Premier League – although he has hit double figures in four of the last five seasons in all competitions – is a far greater facilitator of chances for others than a taker of them himself.

In an almost 15 year career, those four occasions are the only times he has gone over the 10 goal mark.


Now, he will be tasked with being the club's creator in chief.

The preference is for him to be central, as a No.10 or potentially as one of two No.8s pushing on, using his ability in tight spaces.

His work ethic isn't in question, and Arsenal believe that his running power, and ability to take an opponent out of the game, will help open up channels for those within the Gunners setup who do boast blistering pace and who they believe are more efficient finishers.

The hope is that Nicolas Pepe will continue to grow on the right, that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang re-signs, that Reiss Nelson and Bukayo Saka continue to develop and that Willian can help bring out extra from them all.

If 3-4-3 remains, then Willian operating from out-to-in, with a wing-back overlapping and Aubameyang playing centre-forward becomes an option, and is something he is used to having featured regularly in such a position at Chelsea.

However the feeling among Arsenal's powers-that-be is that now is the right time for him to transition, making the most of his creative ability in pockets, and working openings for others, rather than being on the end of moves coming from wide.

Arteta has made clear a desire for new options throughout midfield, particularly with Matteo Guendouzi for sale, Ozil not in his plans, Lucas Torreira potentially off and Dani Ceballos' return not guaranteed.

Willian does just that and is now set to take centre stage during the next phase of Arteta’s Arsenal rebuild.

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