Six months of Willian at Arsenal – Fan anger, Arteta criticism and Edu fury

Last Sunday marked six months since Arsenal sealed what looked to be the shrewd signing of Brazilian winger Willian.

The 32-year-old was a free agent after being released by Chelsea, and many onlookers felt the Gunners had completed a clever bit of business by snapping him up on a three-year deal in the summer.

But you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would argue that Willian's spell at the Emirates so far has been anything short of an unmitigated disaster.

Here, Mirror Football takes a look at where it has all gone wrong… and what the future may hold for the player.

Bright beginnings

It seems a long time ago now, but Willian actually enjoyed a near-perfect debut for Arsenal.

He started their first game of the Premier League season against Fulham and played an instrumental role in a 3-0 victory, setting up two of the goals and looking at home straight away in a front three along with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.

Mikel Arteta was full of praise after the game, hailing Willian as a "role model" to the youngster players.

He added: "Willie is a really good one to have around the place, because he doesn’t talk so much in the dressing room, but does his talking on the pitch."

So far, so good…

The cracks start to show

After that hugely promising start Willian was less effective in the next few games, and picked up a calf injury which ruled him out of three matches in October.

Nevertheless Arteta was still positive, and appeared particularly pleased with Willian's impact in a 1-0 win against Manchester United at Old Trafford the next month.

"He has the ability to score a goal, create an assist and the personality and understanding we need to manage the game in certain ­moments. At Old Trafford he did that really well," the Spaniard said.

"He’s getting better and better and we all know the quality that he has and he’s a great option to have on the pitch."

However, in his absence youngsters such as Bukayo Saka, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson shone, and some supporters were left questioning why Willian deserved a place in the line-up ahead of them.

Pundit criticism begins

Willian's struggles continued through November and December amid Arsenal's woeful form, and a number of pundits were beginning to lose their patience with his displays.

Jamie Carragher labelled his signing "a joke", while Paul Merson said he "can't remember him having a good game yet."

Some went even further in criticising his work-rate and effort as well as his ability, and Martin Keown accused him of "looking like he is on holiday at Arsenal."

And after a particularly half-hearted showing in a defeat to Everton Graeme Souness ripped into Willian for his part in the Toffees opener.

He blasted: "It comes into Tom Davies, who ends up finding Alex Iwobi. Sprint back please, sprint back! You’ve got a job to do defensively, Willian!

"Try and stop the cross, Willian, but he goes: Oh, I’ll just jog towards him!'"

Things were starting to turn ugly, and off the pitch Willian also found himself the target of fury from supporters, with social media turning poisonous.

Edu launches furious defence

Yet in the face of such criticism, Willian had an ally in the man who was instrumental in bringing him to the club – Arsenal technical director Edu.

The former Gunners midfielder appeared livid with the witch-hunt against his signing – and appeared to hit out at those who were having a dig by accusing them of 'not knowing football'.

"Listen, everybody knows Willian," he said. "If people say that he’s not a good footballer then maybe they don’t know football because he has always performed at the top, top level.

"Training, he’s training properly. His behaviour? Top, as always. Training? Fantastic. For me, it’s just a question of timing."

The comments did not go down well with Ian Wright, however, who responded on his podcast: "I was very disappointed with something I read with Edu talking about Willian needing time.

"I can’t have that – and I’d say it to him if I saw him – because we don’t want to be peddling that.

"We’ve brought Willian in to hit the ground running and when he came in I read what you [Edu] said about a player that we need an immediate impact from.

"We’ve signed him for three years which was very dubious for a lot of people. I went, 'okay, Willian is good enough, a serial winner, and you look at the experience he brings'.

"To hear, 'we need to give him more time'… I needed something to squeeze because that’s not why he bought him."

Arteta admits criticism not "unfair"

Despite Arsenal's recent upturn in form, things have not got any better for Willian since the turn of the year.

Indeed, many Gunners fans would argue that their performances have improved because he has been not involved as much, with Willian having only featured sporadically in 2021.

Ahead of their Europa League last-32 tie against Benfica this week, Arteta for the first time appeared to admit he has been disappointed with Willian.

"I don’t say it’s [the criticism] unfair," he said. "The expectations of Willy and the goals he can score, the assists he can create. It’s normal that people will write things about him.

We have to protect him as much as we can. The way he’s training, the way he’s working, the way he’s willing to give everything to the team, is what I demand."

What now?

So where do Willian and Arsenal go from here?

One of the main issues seems to be just how unpopular a figure, rightly or wrongly, he has become with supporters.

The emergence of bright young talents at the club could not have come at a worse time for Willian, and there is a clamour for Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and the on-loan Martin Odegaard to play every game over him.

He he is often made out to be the scapegoat even when it is not necessarily his fault – although he certainly doesn't seem to help himself with his languid body language on the pitch sometimes.

Arteta seems determined to make the move work, yet in your head you can almost hear the groans from the Emirates that would greet Willian every time he comes on as a substitute or misplaces another key pass.

The fact he was handed a lucrative £200,000-a-week three-year deal is again no fault of Willian's, but with the ghost of Mesut Ozil still looming large he is currently seen as the latest expensive flop signed by a club who seem to be a bit of a shambles off the pitch.

This is, of course, not the first time we have seen a new signing struggling to fit in at a new club, and worse players than Willian have turned things around after a poor start.

But it will be intriguing to see how things go for him in the latter stages of what has been a fairly dismal campaign.

The stats speak for themselves – just three assists and ZERO goals in all competitions.

Those simply have to improve if he is ever to win over fans.

A good performance against Benfica would certainly be a start.

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