Something has to give following Willian’s arrival at Arsenal.
The 32-year-old has seen his wish granted by the club, with Chelsea not willing to match the three-year contract offered to the Brazilian by Arsenal.
“I believe he’s a player that can really make a difference for us,” Arteta said. “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.
“As well he brings a lot of quality and something that we need, which is winners. He has the experience to win almost everything in the football world but still the ambition to come here and contribute to bring the club where it belongs.
“It is many of his qualities [that appeal]. One is his ability to play in those tight spaces, his ability to play people through, to unlock, to drive with the ball and create overloads, he is a goal threat as well both in open play and with set pieces.
“Again, it is the character that I want, the kind of player that when things get difficult in the game that wants to take responsibility, wants the ball and wants to win the game for the team and I think it is going to be a really good lift for all the players as well in terms of the quality we are bringing to the squad.”
Resounding praise from Arteta, and this abundance of attributes will likely earn Willian a place in his starting XI next season as Arsenal target a return to the Premier League’s top table.
His influence could dwindle come the second and third season given he will be almost 35 when this contract expires, but in the short-term he is nothing short of a threat not only to Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka, but to Alexandre Lacazette as well.
As primarily a winger, Willian can slot into the role occupied by either Pepe or Saka on the right when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang starts on the left and Lacazette the centre forward.
But as another wide option, Willian’s presence only increases the likelihood of Arteta deploying Aubameyang centrally. The Gabon international has after all been the club’s top scorer the past two seasons, this despite playing mainly out wide as Lacazette tussles with Eddie Nketiah for the central role.
Any potential role-swap would leave Lacazette and Nketiah on the bench, with two of Willian, Pepe and Saka to choose from on the wing, but first and foremost Arsenal must lock Aubameyang down to a new contract.
The Telegraph reported last week a three-year extension worth around £250,000-a-week is close to being signed, with the club all too aware that securing their captain’s future is of upmost this summer. He may still need some convincing, but technical director was keen to stress Willian’s arrival was the first step in a “big process” – one that could persuade Aubameyang to stay.
“We tried to create a better balance but we know that takes time to balance the squad the way me and Mikel want to,” Edu told Arsenal Digital. “To balance properly, we need to sell players, to buy players and that takes time, not just day and night.
“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.”
It is worth noting Edu’s reminder that there will also be outgoings at Arsenal. What chance of Lacazette being one such departure?
The French striker would command a greater fee than other players who are not indispensable, and that money could go towards buying someone who is, with Atletico Madrid midfielder Thomas Partey certainly fitting that category, while Nice centre-back Malang Sarr has also been linked with a move to the club.
Only then would the balance Edu refers to be truly addressed. Willian is a good start, but by no means the final piece of the puzzle. Start Willian, play Aubameyang centrally, sell Lacazette, sign Thomas, and then the outlook suddenly looks a lot brighter.
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