Welcome to the Evening Standard‘s rolling transfer news and rumours live blog as the summer transfer speculation increases.The window officially opened last month after the completion of the delayed 2019-2020 Premier League season. Premier League clubs will now be busy tweaking their squads ahead of the new campaign, with the window scheduled to close on October 5.
One of the key aspects of Edu’s role as Arsenal’s technical director is to find what he has described as the right “balance” in the squad. Arsenal need a better balance of positions, a better balance of personalities and, perhaps most importantly at this moment, a better balance of ages. The need for experience is particularly pressing for Edu and Arsenal because of the young talent in their squad. The club has such high hopes for this exciting generation - the likes of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson - but these players need responsible, senior players around them if they are to develop. This explains, in large part, the decision to provide David Luiz with a one-year contract extension this summer. It also explains the signing of Cedric Soares and, now, the recruitment of Willian on a free transfer from Chelsea. What is the financial reasoning behind this deal? At the age of 32, Willian does not represent the future for Arsenal. He is a signing for the present, an arrival who instantly improves the squad and its balance. For purely footballing reasons, it is a move that appears to tick all of the boxes that Edu and Mikel Arteta have been hoping to tick. Financially, it is a little more complicated. Willian was loved at Chelsea, with Frank Lampard desperate to keep him at the club. But Chelsea did not see value in offering the Brazilian a contract extension longer than two years. Even when it became clear that he could be joining one of their London rivals, and even as Lampard continued to push for Willian to stay, Chelsea still did not see value in giving Willian what he wanted. The obvious question, then, is this: what did Chelsea see in Willian that Arsenal have not? From Arsenal’s perspective, perhaps the question does not need answering just yet. If Willian’s form over the last campaign provides us with any indication of how he might perform next season, he will be an effective addition for at least another year. Beyond that, when he approaches his mid-30s? Let’s wait and see. There can be no doubt that, in an ideal world, Arsenal would have provided Willian with a shorter deal. But a three-year contract was the price they had to pay to secure his signature. It is understood the third year will cost Arsenal around £5 million in basic salary, before bonuses. This cost is made far more palatable by the lack of transfer fee. Where does Willian fit in? It is not hard to see the appeal of Willian to Arteta, who is understood to have specifically asked for the forward to be signed. Willian can operate on either flank and also in a more central attacking position behind the striker. With Mesut Ozil out of the picture as Arsenal desperately seek to offload at least a chunk of his wages, Willian’s ability to play in a No 10 position could be crucial. This is an area of the pitch in which Arsenal are surprisingly short, given their history of signing impish playmakers, and Willian could form part of an exciting front four along with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe. Willian is Premier League-ready, having made more than 230 appearances over the last seven seasons. He has been remarkably injury-free, too, averaging 33 league showings per campaign at Chelsea. His technical quality is obvious enough, and he represents a different sort of threat in forward positions. Willian’s arrival could even see Aubameyang playing in a more central role, ahead of Lacazette. At the very least, it gives Arteta more options. “We had a clear intention to strengthen in the attacking midfielder and the winger positions,” said Arteta. “He is a player that gives us a lot of versatility, he can play in three or four different positions. “He has the experience of everything in the football world but to still have the ambition to come here and contribute to bring the club where it belongs. I have been really impressed with all the talks I have had with him and how much he wanted to come.” Arsenal’s hope will be that young forwards Nelson, Saka and Martinelli all benefit from seeing Willian at work. This was certainly the case at Chelsea, where Willian was seen as a leader by example. Willian will teach them (and some of the more senior players) how to work for the team. He is primarily a playmaker, yes, but anyone who has seen Chelsea over the last seven years will know that he is also willing to put in the hard yards without the ball. “On the ball, we all know his ability to go by, one v one, and shift people and cross or get shots away,” said Lampard of Willian last season. “But his off-the-ball work is an outstanding example for Callum Hudson-Odoi, for Christian Pulisic, for other young players who think the only part of the game is going by people, crossing or shooting. "He certainly has the Brazilian flair in terms of his touch. His burst of pace away from people is somewhat Brazilian but the selfless side of his game is always a starting point for me. "As we worked as a staff here, it was about how good we could be off the ball. Then think about on the ball afterwards. For someone who is showing that example up the pitch, it reflects everywhere. He does the other side brilliantly, with absolute humility. He’s been a joy and one of the experienced players who is helping the young boys." Willian provides much-needed creativity In the Premier League last season, one of Arsenal’s major issues was their inability to create chances. Pepe created the most for them, with 40, but the second-highest chance creator was Ozil, who did not play a single minute post-lockdown. Willian was by some distance Chelsea’s most creative player since Lampard’s arrival. In all he created 76 chances in the Premier League, including assists. Second in their rankings was Mason Mount, all the way back on 52. In the Premier League as a whole, Willian was statistically the seventh most creative player in the division, and Arsenal were only the 15th most creative team. Again, the appeal to Arteta is obvious enough. A persistent problem for Arsenal has been breaking down deep-lying defences. Willian has the technical ability to create chances in small spaces and is more natural in those congested positions than Aubameyang and Pepe, who are at their most dangerous when they can counter-attack. In short, Willian provides Arteta with something different. He is versatile and experienced, and he will be expected to step up as one of the squad’s key leaders. Judge this free transfer on those qualities and, really, it is a no-brainer. Whether he will remain effective over the length of his contract is of course another matter. That is the big question but, for Arsenal, it is a question for another day.
The former Germany international has insisted that his omission from the Gunners squad post-lockdown had nothing to do with his fitness levels