Mikel Arteta’s plans for reviving Arsenal became clear with his arrival, but the club’s actions during the transfer window seem even more promising. The team announced the signing of the Brazilian international Willian after one of the best seasons of his career.
Being a key figure for Chelsea didn’t change with Frank Lampard’s arrival and Willian was a crucial part of the Blues’ redemption, performing at his best even at 32 years of age.
The Brazilian helped the team in their attacking ventures but most importantly, his presence and experience added value to their actions all over the pitch. His versatility and work ethic are definitely something to add on to Arsenal’s performances and having an experienced player with strong on- and off-the-ball abilities would also be beneficial for the youngsters in the club.
Even though the fans still hope for some more new additions, Arsenal already look better and have started to build a new identity, gaining confidence with each game.
This tactical analysis in the form of scout report will examine how Willian could fit into Arteta’s tactics and use analysis to see where he could be most useful based on his main traits and Arsenal’s style of play.
Versatility and explosiveness
As mentioned, Willian left Chelsea after one of his best seasons playing for the Blues. His nine goals and seven assists in the Premier League last season are only a small part of his contribution to the team’s actions. Being employed mainly as a winger (although he has played centrally too), he was able to provide width but also add an additional threat in front of the goal.
Willian can play equally well on both sides, which makes him a very valuable addition to every attacking line due to his versatility. What is even more impressive is his ability to place well as a No 10 in the central areas too.
At Chelsea, he was used mostly as a winger in a 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, and occasionally 3-4-3 where he showed his versatility and that he can easily adjust to multiple set-ups without that taking off of his performance.
While he spent some time on the left wing, his most-occupied area was the right, where he supported the team with smart movement and precise actions.
Having a player of his calibre will be of huge help for Arteta, who seems to have a variety of strategies in mind and needs tactically intelligent players who can be the change, especially if something goes wrong.
Where he could be used by Arteta?
Looking into Arteta’s most used formations, we could see he favours the back three schemes, using a 3-4-3 since it suits his current available players the most. We’ve seen him set Arsenal up in a 4-2-3-1 too, which has its pros and cons, but seems like a suitable one too, especially when he needs more security at the back and better territorial coverage.
The Spaniard relies on strong positional play and smart movement for advancing the ball, but despite the strong individualities in the frontline, the team have failed to create as many opportunities in front of the goal as they could have. Bringing in Willian will increase the creativity up front and give the players more freedom in the final third.
There are a few options for Willian to fit in the current Arsenal squad.
Could the No. 10 role get the best out of him?
The one that might not get the best out of him but could be pretty beneficial for the team is sticking to the 4-2-3-1 where the 32-year-old will be placed behind the central forward. While he could be a tad more limited when it comes to overall impact, his intelligent movement and spatial awareness could be extremely important for supporting the front three that forms in possession.
This could be used in case Arteta wants to employ a more aggressive attacking approach, having all Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Nicolas Pépé in the squad.
Although Willian hasn’t played in the central position too often, his performances as a back-up to the frontman were impressive thanks to his spatial awareness and strong decision-making. Being aware of his technical abilities and close control, his tactical flexibility and understanding are even more impressive.
Playing in the No. 10 role could be suitable for him as he would be able to use his positioning for creating chances for his teammates. He tends to move between the lines quite often which is exactly what’s needed for that position. With his passing abilities, he could complement Aubameyang’s performance quite well, but what’s even more interesting is that he could be used as a direct threat too, thanks to his intelligent movement. Willian’s ability to break defences is highly praised, especially when playing against low blocks with well-structured lines.
Breaking these defensive setups is something Arteta’s side have struggled with last season, and bringing the likes of Willian could be the solution. Thanks to his complex set of skills and his versatility he provides a lot of options in and around the box: from dragging players out of position, through creating chances for his teammates to exploiting them on his own.
Playing in behind the centre-forward could be beneficial for the wingers too. Thanks to his key pass abilities, he could set them up in perfect positions to score, especially when exploiting the half-spaces, which will give them the freedom to move around.
In cases when the opposition employ a successful marking strategy and his teammates are occupied, Willian could use his movement to quickly switch positions and move up front becoming a direct threat.
Although he is a different type of player, the Brazilian could successfully get in the role of Mesut Özil and provide that connection between the lines that was lacking with his absence.
Could he fit a counter-attacking approach?
Since Arteta occasionally prefers a more counter-attacking approach, having Willian as a part of the front-three seems like a tempting idea. Expectedly, when relying on creating chances through counters, you need to have players with pace, strong ball control, and smart positioning. Placing Willian, Aubameyang, and Pépé next to each other could be the perfect match for succeeding in that matter. The key for it to work out is using their strengths in the best possible way and looking into these three players on paper, they should complement each other’s movement a lot.
Willian has some experience with breaking defences on a counter through his smart runs and dribbling abilities. He could both be useful for progressing the ball and delivering it to his teammates, but also for taking on the defenders and finishing the attacks. That’s thanks to his ball control and dribbling abilities which allow him to hold on to the ball and advance it. In fact, even if he’s tightly covered, he could switch play to Pépé on the right and release the pressure.
When it comes to finishing off chances alone, his ability to shoot both from outside the box and from a close distance could help the team to take advantage of their opportunities more often.
Would the vacant left wing suit him best?
As mentioned, Willian’s natural position is out wide. While he has more experience on the right, the left wing is also an area he frequently exploits and is equally efficient at. Looking at Arsenal’s squad, this looks like the most obvious spot for him since the team are often lacking width and depth out there. With the likes of Kieran Tierney on the left-back position, the team needs someone to provide even better coverage on the left flank. Having someone to combine with would give Tierney more freedom, but also would give Arsenal more options in and around the box, thanks to the switch of position that could be employed.
Having Willian, who often tends to cut inside and exploit the half-spaces, would bring additional value to the Gunners’ attack, especially if he manages to build a strong connection with Tierney. Such a partnership could be useful for throw-ins and corners where they can exchange positions and create short pass combinations on the flank, which would help them break through defences.
Also, having support when it comes to crossing would be extremely important for the whole team’s movement in attack. His 2.69 crosses per game are not only executed from his wide position – he actually performs a lot of deep crosses from the edge of the final third, using them for breaking lines and bypassing the press.
Willian’s decision-making is key both when crossing and when moving into the central areas. Thanks to his intelligence and quick thinking, he could easily find a solution in the final third by finding the best option for a pass.
The combination of these skills could find him as the main creator for the team, supporting Aubameyang and Pépé perfectly.
Is he going to compete with Pépé for the right wing position?
Although the club-record signing Pépé hasn’t met the high expectations yet, his performance was rather satisfactory, scoring five goals and assisting six in the Premier League this season. So, it was no surprise that, due to Willian’s most frequent role as a right-winger, the question of who is going to be the main choice in that position popped up immediately. While Willian is considered a way more complex and versatile player, they do have certain similarities when it comes to their strengths.
While Pépé has strong technical abilities and strong attacking flair, Willian could offer a lot more balanced performance when it comes to chance creating, shooting, crossing, ball progression, and even defensive contribution.
Let’s take a look at both players’ average statistics from the 2019/20 season below.
We can see that Willian excels in the creativity indicator (in this case key passes) as well as has a higher rate of recoveries done per 90. Pépé is more active when it comes to dribbling attempts, but looking at their crossing and shooting efforts per game, there isn’t much a difference. Despite their stats being pretty similar, their approaches are quite different.
While Pépé is more of an individual creator who tends to cut inside and use his dribbling skills and flair to create opportunities, Willian is more of a deliveryman, who constantly tries to supply his teammates with quality balls. The main difference between the two is that the Brazilian international is way more active when it comes to keeping the width and creating for his teammates (although he tends to move centrally too), while Pépé stays out wide until he receives the ball and then tries to cut inside with it. The Brazilian is better prepared tactically, which is often the reason for his superiority.
Willian’s versatility could allow the right-back Héctor Bellerín more freedom too by keeping the width. Bellerín would be able to focus on his defensive performance better if there’s a player who stays out wide and could support the final third actions with crossing. Building a strong partnership with Bellerín could also work for performing overlapping and underlapping runs who will increase the team’s explosiveness in attack
Despite his attack-focused actions, Willian does go back to the central line often to help with the ball progression. His 3.44 progressive runs are extremely helpful during transitions. His ability to hold on to the ball and progress it is not only key during counters, but it also helps the team execute their attacks well. The fact that he could carry the ball to the final third and finish off with a well-measured action proves it is a very important skill in the advanced areas. His style of play helps in breaking defences that sit deep, thanks to his pace and ball control.
Willian could also be very beneficial for Arsenal when it comes to attacking set-pieces. He was the key figure for Chelsea’s set-piece ventures, taking the responsibilities for corners, free-kicks, and penalties too. His experience in that area could add a lot of value to the team’s performance since their options for set-piece takers are now pretty limited.
Willian doesn’t lack defensive contribution too. To add to his impressive set of skills, he tends to mark his opponents successfully and be suitable for a high-pressing style of play. He could add to Arsenal’s already improved pressing strategy and support the team defensively with duels and recoveries, but most importantly with his presence.
His positional awareness and discipline are key for closing out space and disturbing the opposition, providing better coverage on key areas.
Having a complex player like Willian should increase Arsenal’s efficiency in attack. While they have a solid group of attacking players, the Brazilian’s versatility and tactical intelligence are expected to improve their actions in the final third and provide the much-needed creativity that went missing with Mesut Özil’s absence.
He could fit different formations and roles which will give Arteta some more freedom in adjusting his approach based on the opposition.