Analysis

Where Willian will fit in at Arsenal

Willian

By Aaron Catterson-Reid

The arrival of Willian from Chelsea is a coup as Mikel Arteta looks to bolster his squad ahead his first full season as Arsenal head coach.

Having enjoyed one of his best seasons in England last campaign, scoring nine times and delivering seven assists in the Premier League, it is clear that the Brazilian is still at the peak of his powers and looks to be a clever acquisition for the Gunners.

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Willian spent seven successful years at Chelsea, recording 63 goals and 56 assists during his time in west London, consistently demonstrating how talented a player he is. The Brazilian has also featured 70 times for his country, a highly-impressive feat considering the competition he has at international level.

The 32-year-old will prove to be a head coach's dream as he can play on either flank as well as at No 10 to an extremely high level. Furthermore, Willian is experienced playing in a variety of formations, which will be useful considering Arteta's need for tactically flexible players.

CREATIVITY

One of Arsenal's biggest issues last season was their lack of creativity. The Gunners surprisingly ranked seventh in the league for goals scored, ninth in the league for xG (expected goals) and 16th for chances created. The addition of Willian will most definitely look to alter this.

Nicolas Pepe was Arsenal's leading man when it came to creating chances in the Premier League, fashioning 40 over the course of the campaign. In comparison, Willian created 77 chances in the league, a statistic only bettered by six players.

The Brazilian will thus add a wealth of creativity to the Arsenal frontline that is lethal when given opportunities. He has demonstrated this trait on a consistent basis too, averaging at least 2.6 key passes per match in each of the last five seasons.

Willian through ball

Willian is also extremely experienced when it comes to choice of final ball. One of his main attributes is his decision-making in the final third, often opting for a cutback to find one of his team-mates in a goalscoring position.

The Brazilian international can also find his team-mates with a more traditional cross, completing the ninth most crosses in the Premier League last season with 51. He has a knack for finding space on the wing, whipping in a pinpoint delivery with venom.

His flair and quick-thinking also help him fashion chances from nothing, a trait that Arsenal will need to help break down deep blocks.

Despite his age, the winger is showing no signs of declining any time soon, in fact his creative numbers are as good as ever. His xA (expected Assist) tally was 8.68, bettered only by four Premier League players.

DIRECTNESS

An exciting player to watch, Willian always looks to drive at opposition players, combining his mixture of pace, close control and dribbling technique. This 'samba style' means that he is an extremely valuable asset to any side looking to attack deep blocks or play on the counter-attack.

The direct play style is exactly what Arteta's side are crying out for, too often failing to penetrate defences that sit deep and pack their box. His low centre of gravity allows him to skip past onrushing defenders with ease, similar to Pepe in that regard.

Willian is never afraid to take risks, always willing to run at opposition full-backs in search of a goal and more often than not he beats his man. The versatile attacker ranked five in the Champions League for dribbles per game, proving he can do it on the big stage, too.

FITTING IN

Willian will be the 14th Brazilian to play for Arsenal, joining David Luiz and Gabriel Martinelli to make up a strong Brazilian contingent at the Emirates.

He should fit into Arteta's line-up just as seamlessly, given his ability to play in a number of positions and formations.

In big games the Spaniard has opted for a counter-attacking front three, one with bags of pace and intelligent movement. Willian would likely fit in on the left of the three alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Pepe to form a formidable attack.

Willian has displayed his ability to play in a counter-attacking three on numerous occasions, frequently making clever runs behind opposition defences as well as finding pockets of space to pick out team-mates on the break.

Willian's qualities as a count-attacking winger are undoubted as he has consistently produced against the other so-called top six, managing goals against Manchester City, Liverpool and Tottenham last season alone.

If Arteta wishes to use him in his previously preferred 4-2-3-1 formation against a team that sits deeper, he will be more than able to perform in any role behind the front man as well.

Willian frequently creates goals by occupying the half spaces and whipping in a cross to the striker, this will likely take the creative burden off Pepe and mean even more goals for Aubameyang.

It’s not just running in behind that he can do either, he is flexible in his playing style, often opting to come deep and receive the ball to feet, which opens up space in behind. This could be a big plus for Kieran Tierney as he will have space to run into down the left flank and pick out a cross.

If Arteta wishes to shoehorn Willian, Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang into one side, it can be done by playing the Brazilian as No 10. He loves to get on the ball in between the lines and play through to an attacker or have an effort on goal.

Willian will also fit into Arteta's hard-working, high intensity set-up, with the Brazilian repeatedly praised for his tracking back and high-pressing style.

The 32-year-old will add bags of experience and a winning mentality to the Arsenal dressing room that is packed with promising young talents such as Bukayo Saka and Martinelli.

Given Willian will be joining Arsenal on a free transfer, it looks to be excellent business by the Gunners, who know he is capable of performing at a world-class level in the Premier League.

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