Ok, so this is where we are.
Willian has expressly leaked that he wants to stay in London with his family. He has the choice of Spurs or Arsenal (Not sure Miami or Barca is real). His agent, Kia, is Arsenal’s Shadow Technical Director, so it looks very likely the Chelsea man is going to join us.
As I told you before the break, he was basically a done deal. The world went to shit, finances followed, and we weren’t sure if we’d be making Europe. Now we are, the deal is back on the table.
I have gone back and forth on whether I like it because it is a very, very complicated one when you compare it to signing David Luiz last season.
Let’s start on the positives because it’s Tuesday and everyone needs some light in their lives.
Willian is a very good player, that isn’t in doubt. He’s not moving to Arsenal under a cloud. He’s coming to us as one of Chelsea’s form players this season. When you compare him to Nicolas Pepe, who is in his first season with us, the numbers look quite similar, Pepe had 18 goal contributions this season and Willian 20… lift the hood and you start to see what might be appealing to Mikel.
Willian made 75 passes that led to shots this season, compared with 38 for Pepe. Across the season in all comps, I’ve seen 145 to 66. Tough to compare because the two clubs had very different seasons with very different squads, but the numbers don’t lie.
I think some other attributes that work in our favour is the Brazilian looks in very good shape. There’s a new generation of players that are looking good well into their thirties. This is very hopeful though because Mikhi had lost all his physical capabilities by the time he arrived with us and he failed because of it. Still, Willian was explosive over short distances this season. Additionally, he can move with the ball like a demon. He has very tight control, he moves through gaps like Santi, and he’s a professionals pro for sure.
One of the criticisms I’ve had of Pepe this year is that he gives the ball away cheaply. It doesn’t stick to him when we’re moving forward. I think Willian is very reliable on the ball in comparison. We also have a lot of young wide players at the club, so much in the same way Luiz has been a good influence on the kids, maybe Willian can bring that our way as well.
On the experience thing… we’ve been here before.
Yes we have lots of young players, but we also have a lot of older players. So, do we need a different profile of attacker? Yes. But I’m not sure they need to be 32 years old.
Here’s the main crux of the issue for me: We keep making the same mistakes over and over.
We have tried to sign experienced players with ‘winning’ mentality, where did it get us? We finished 8th last season and had to back door the Europa League. Most fans seem to be overjoyed we’re signing in Willian because it feels big and exciting to land a ‘name’ like that on a free transfer. I get that, these sorts of harmless deals always look good on paper, my worry is that we’re not building the club out properly and every time we move on an expensive older name, we bring a new one right in behind them that fails. Gallas, Cech, Lichtsteiner, Mikhi, Sokratis, Silvestre…
Do we really think Willian, a player reliant on pace and power, is going to be tearing up the Premier League in year 3 of that deal? I’m not so sure. There is no long-term value in signing older players that have a max shelf life of 2 years if you are incredibly lucky to have someone with genes like Jamie Vardy or Cristiano. Getting to the Champions League is no good if you don’t have squad ready to compete for it. If we’re giving players 3 year deals, I kind of expect they’ll be at the top of their game in year three.
It’s also disgraceful that the most creative option Edu has managed to find in a year is someone that is on Kia’s books again. Amazing how lucky it is that every time we have a need, one of the 3 or 4 contacts Raul and Edu have are ready with a very good solution. The conflict of interest is so clear and it’s a shame because it sullies the deal from the off.
However, what would make this all a little more palatable is if the deal was one that was right for the club. I said that I’d heard the deal was being held up because the numbers changed from where they were pre-covid. My hunch is that Tim Lewis is now scrutinizing where the Kroenke’s money is going, in fact, that’s not a hunch, he said as much on the .com. That story was still semi in play today when David Ornstein said the deal is not that lucrative. Remember, Willian is staying in London for family reasons, that gives Arsenal leverage. If we landed a lower number at the cost of an extra year (like we did with Mikel when he was a player), it makes it feel a little more normal… versus what happened last year with David Luiz where we were completely shafted.
It still doesn’t change the fact that he has no long-term value, but it makes it an easier pill to swallow.
Other things that could make the deal more palatable is if the rest of our summer business counters the factors going against him. Younger players, higher ceilings, better profiles that feel coherent.
When the summer ends, it’ll be interesting to see where we land. Did we go back into Lille with mega money? Did we sign more Kia players like Coutinho and Joelson? Did we inject agents into deals? Or did we start to behave a bit more like a club that has ideas outside the WhatsApp group? Did the scouts and analysts have a say? Did we learn any lessons from the last 3 years? Did we progress?
We’ll see… but whatever happens this summer, there has to be a squad that makes sense by the end of it. My main hope is that Arteta has a bit of cash in the bank and proper voice at the table. He seems very passionate about bringing Arsenal back to the top. Fingers crossed he can get that done with Raul and Edu.
Right, that’s me done, what do YOU think?