Willian begins to show Arsenal fans why Mikel Arteta worked so hard to sign him

Simon Collings
·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Mikel Arteta’s players have given him plenty of headaches he did not need this season, but after this victory over Leicester City they have provided the Spaniard with a welcome one.

Often this season we have bemoaned Arsenal’s lack of squad depth and the fact that when their star players are rested they fail to deliver.

And when you saw Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Thomas Partey had been rested for this trip to the King Power, you feared it could be a case of deja vu.

Arsenal, however, bucked the trend and those players who were handed a chance to shine did so as the Gunners ran out deserved 3-1 winners.

Nicolas Pepe was probably the pick of the bunch. The Ivorian has had a difficult time in north London so far since joining for £72million, however he ran riot here.

Pepe tormented Leicester left-back Luke Thomas in the opening 45 minutes, so much so the youngster was hooked at half-time and Ricardo Pereira was moved to full-back.

It did little to stop the 25-year-old, who scored Arsenal’s third goal by tapping home a slick counter in the 52nd minute.

That was no more than Pepe’s performance deserved - which was arguably the best of his Arsenal career so far - but there were plenty of others who stepped up to the plate too.

The much-maligned Willian looked much more like the player Arsenal thought they were signing from Chelsea and finishing the game with two assists will do wonders for his confidence.

The Brazilian, who was deployed out left, was bright and direct - a bit like Pepe on the other flank - however his work off the ball was much improved too. Willian tracked back and did the dirty work too, which will not have gone unnoticed by Arteta.

At the back, Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari also put in steady and composed performances. They, like Pepe and Willian, will have put pressure on those starting ahead of them and that is a most welcome for Arteta. The Spaniard now has a selection headache ahead of Burnley next week - which has not often been the case this season.

Xhaka the constant as Arsenal complete testing fortnight

Throughout this difficult fortnight of fixtures for Arsenal - which has seen them play Benfica twice, Manchester City and Leicester - there have been few constants. Arteta has rotated his team to keep players fresh and fit, but Granit Xhaka has remained.

The Swiss has started all of the past four matches and he has shown in that time how vital he is to Arsenal. Xhaka really is the glue that holds this team together and, unlike in the past, he is going about his business under the radar.

The 28-year-old was excellent against Leicester, quietly breaking up play and providing a platform for the likes of Pepe and Willian to flourish. It was very much a no-thrills display from Xhaka, but in the role he plays that is what you want from him.

It feels like Xhaka is maturing with every game he plays under Arteta and, given his difficult past at Arsenal, that is no mean feat.

Saka gets a vital rest after hectic run

After his heroics against Benfica on Thursday, Arteta confessed Bukayo Saka would needed to be rested at some point. Until this game, the 19-year-old had played every minute bar one of Arsenal’s February fixtures and he needed a break.

The winger got that and it will surely do him the world of good. In this hectic and unprecedented season breaks are hard to come, so the fact Saka has had his - and Arsenal have won - is a dream for Arteta. It is not something the Spaniard will want to do often, but at least now he can feel easier about relying on his teenager star going forward.

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