Arsenal 2-0 Newcastle: Arteta's Willian faith must surely be waning
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Never have I experienced such hostility towards our own player from our own fanbase than the wrath that surrounds Willian currently. Whilst he has indeed been utterly atrocious, not providing any value for the extortionate wages we are paying him, there's certainly been worse to have stepped foot on the pitch donning the red and white. This is an era that has seen the likes of Yaya Sanogo, Maraune Chamakh, Andre Santos, Park Chu-Young and Sebastian Squillaci play major roles in certain seasons.
Perhaps I'm overplaying it slightly. Perhaps it's all exacerbated by the heightened toxic social media culture that wasn't as prevalent in any of these players time's at the club. Perhaps it's due to my experience of the reaction to him being solely online in this time when football concourse is functioning entirely on social media. Perhaps, more obviously, it's down to the ridiculous nature of the deal and how it reflects the incompetence of those in senior positions within the club. Nevertheless, it's getting uncontrollably virulent in the digital world. I can't imagine the response the Brazilian would've received from 60,000 gooners when his number was put up on the 4th official's board last night and he, subsequently, strolled off the pitch slowly, as if we were 4-0 up and he'd produced a blinder.
Before I truly dissect the Willian situation, it's worth noting that this was on the whole a positive night for Arsenal, in which we extended our winning run, and I'm not trying to paint a negative narrative over the game. Yes, it took us a while to get the job done, but the impact our substitutes- who at the minute are our most important players- made, demonstrated how our first team is very capable of breaking down a stubborn low block. If the likes of Granit Xhaka, Emile-Smith-Rowe, Bukayo Saka and Alex Lacazette had started this game, I've no doubt we'd have won it in normal time. This does, however, suggest that the outer echelons of our squad are not good enough. We don't possess the requisite quality in our squad depth to compete on multiple fronts at the moment.
And that leads on perfectly to Willian. The 32-year-old is indicative of the squad players failing to make a substantial impact at the moment. His display last night encapsulated everything wrong with how he's played in recent months. Very little urgency when on the ball, slowing down the build up and providing very little incision or innovation in the final third- something he was essentially brought into do. At the best of times in an Arsenal shirt, he has provided technical security and ball retention, but even that was completely gone last night, managing 83% of his passes against a side that doesn't press, in a number ten role where ball retention is supposed to be what he brings to the table.
Most worryingly, the lack of effort was seemingly blatant. At times, he's been able to somewhat disguise his minimal work rate, but last night the way he jogged around the pitch with a distinct lack of intensity was disconcerting. Effort and willingness to work hard is the minimum requirement on the football pitch, and Willian simply hasn't provided that for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has stressed his 'non-negotiables' time and time again, and surely Willian blatantly not meeting them should result in a harsher penalty than slightly reduced game time in recent weeks.
Arteta's defiant faith in the Brazilian is fascinating. What is it that he sees in him to keep using him? Early on, it was evident that the Spanish manager generally trusts seniority, and this was a reason to pick his experienced new signing, who he was adamant on bringing in. As time went on, and Willian showed no signs of improvement, he still stood by him. My only justification was that because he was indeed an Arteta signing, the coach felt he had to play him and hope he turned it around in order to justify the deal. However, at some point this has to go out the window. Thankfully, illness meant Arteta's hand was forced, and the success of Willian's replacements has meant he hasn't had to recall him to his first team just yet. Having said this, if Willian hadn't picked up a cough most likely caused by a cheeky little flight out to Dubai in the middle of a pandemic in mid December, would he still be walking into our league side?
The shining light and what could perhaps be a hallmark moment in Arteta's faith in Willian could well have been last night. Arteta's lack of faith in Nicolas Pepe has been very well documented, and yet, in the 66th minute, Willian came off the pitch instead of the Ivorian. Surely this is an indication of waning faith.
The extent to which Willian has fallen from grace this season is quite remarkable, but also very concerning considering he's contracted to us for another two-and-a-half years. If you delve into his underlying metrics, you see a clear and drastic decline this campaign. In his last three seasons at Chelsea, he notched up 0.48, 0.46 and 0.48 xG+xA per 90 respectively. Thus far at Arsenal, it's 0.25. Yeah. Not good.
Strange rumours emerged last week of a Spanish club enquiring about the possibility of signing Willian. These most likely have very little substance, and even if they did, why would he leave with the contract he's secured? Having said that, if there's any chance in hell we can shift him on this window, bite at the offer. I really can't do another 30 months of this.