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From Ozil’s heir to Arsenal flop? Misfiring Willian becoming a big problem for Arteta



The Brazilian attacker made a positive start to his Gunners career but the former Chelsea winger is now being criticised for his recent performances

It all started so well.

Willian’s debut for Arsenal back in the late summer sunshine at Fulham had fans hailing the addition of the Brazilian on a free transfer from Chelsea.

The 32-year-old had a hand in all three goals as Arsenal kicked off the new Premier League campaign with a convincing win at Craven Cottage, setting up two and seeing his shot deflect into the path of Alexandre Lacazette for the other.

He was named man of the match, receiving just over 63 per cent of all the votes cast by Arsenal fans around the world.

“I don’t think it gets much better than that,” a delighted Mikel Arteta said after the game. “He showed how much he really wants it and how much he is going to drive the other players on.

“He was decisive and that is what we are looking for him to do in a consistent way. He is a player with tremendous quality.”

It looked like Arsenal had found the ideal man to replace the void created by Mesut Ozil’s ostracisation, but wind the clock forward a couple of months and Willian is in danger of becoming a big problem for Arteta.

The attacker has yet to score in the 10 appearances for the club and hasn’t added to his assist tally since that opening-day success at Fulham.

His under-par performances already have people questioning the wisdom of handing him a three-year deal worth around £150,000 ($197,000) a week and there are growing demands for Nicolas Pepe to be given an extended run in the side at the Brazilian’s expense.

So, have Arsenal made a costly error in handing the two-time Premier League winner such a long contract? Or is it a case of Willian simply taking his time to adapt to a new club following seven successful years at Chelsea?

Arteta remains convinced his summer recruit will come good.

“I think he started really well with his first game against Fulham,” said the Arsenal boss. “Since then, we’ve been changing the front three, he had an injury and he didn’t have any time to train, any pre-season – he was later than the others.

“I can see a development in the last games. The understanding of things I ask is probably different to what he’s used to, but he’s getting better and better.

“We all know the quality he has and he’s a great option to have on the pitch. I think he’s a player that can make the difference.”

Willian’s quality certainly can’t be doubted. He has won almost everything there is to win during his career and was one of Chelsea’s stand-out performers last season, when he played a key part in the Blues securing Champions League qualification.

He scored 11 goals and provided nine assists for Frank Lampard’s side, creating an average of 1.7 chances per game for his team-mates at Stamford Bridge.

The problem is, of course, that he’s been so far unable to replicate that sort of form in north London, aside from that one dazzling display at Craven Cottage.

There were signs during Arsenal’s 1-0 win at Manchester United that he was beginning to find his feet. He worked tirelessly on the right-hand side of the attack at Old Trafford and saw one fine effort clip the crossbar after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had played the ball into his path.

However, a dreadful display against Aston Villa last Sunday night – when Arteta’s side fell to a thumping 3-0 defeat – had the critics on his back once again.

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