Willian has signed for Arsenal on a free transfer from Chelsea, where he spent 7 years.
The 32 year old Brazilian winger was one of Chelsea’s most consistent and productive players last season. Starting in 29 games, Willian scored nine times and led the Blues in assists with 7. He finished as a top 10 points-earner at his position in both Fantrax and FPL.
This is a good move for the Gunners. They get an experienced player (with no transfer fee) who brings creativity and grit into a team in need of both.
From a fantasy perspective there are lots of questions (that I mistakenly hoped the Community Shield would have answered) that affect how valuable Willian may be as a player for Arsenal and for fantasy this year.
How much will he play? And where?
Willian isn’t young any more; although he is still playing at the top of his game, he just isn’t as resilient as once was. More importantly, while at Chelsea he played in the same basic position and role as Nicholas Pepe did for Arsenal. This is my biggest concern (from a fantasy perspective) about Willian. Pepe didn’t have the kind of break out season that the Gunners hoped for, but he also showed moments of brilliance that made me think there is more to come. I have a hard time believing that Arsenal are simply going to keep Pepe on the bench. If that’s the case, where does that put Willian?
If Arteta’s Community Shield lineup is any indication of how he will approach the season, then he will most likely rotate his attackers. It seemed like he is focusing on discipline, organization, and commitment on both sides of the ball. Willian certainly can give those. One has to think that the Community Shield lineup aimed to beat a more talented Liverpool team, but for most games at least one more attacker will be in the lineup. Will that be Willian? Dani Ceballos? Other? Can Willian (or Pepe) move to the center? Move left and push Pierre-Emerick Aubameynag up top? We still don’t know.
Will he be on set pieces?
Willian was one of Chelsea’s key set-piece takers last season, adding real value to his fantasy appeal. When Willian does play for Arsenal (which I am still assuming will be a decent amount, even with the above questions), will he be on set pieces with Pepe, Kieran Tierney, Dani, and others as options? Of those, I think Willian puts in the most consistent and dangerous ball, but there are still doubts about who will be assigned. Willian ranked 9th last season in accurate crosses (according to Fantrax). That number would potentially go down if he’s not consistently playing or on set pieces and corners.
Will he be on penalties?
Of Willian’s nine goals last season, four were scored from the penalty spot. Aubameyang presumably continues in his role as the penalty taker for the Gunners, so that’s a big decrease in points for Willian.
Will he be on my opening roster?
The simple answer is no (although we do get to see how Arteta will lineup against Fulham in the first game). This is a very good signing for Arsenal, and I think Willian will make a difference on the field. However, for all the reasons listed above, I don’t think his fantasy value will stay the same. There is simply less certainty in set pieces, time on the field, and PKs. All of these were key stats that made Willian a top fantasy option each week. That doesn’t mean that he holds no fantasy value. Willian gets fouled, takes people on, defends, and will score and assist during the run of play. But he is currently a premium priced player (Fantrax $18.23 and FPL $8.0) with too many unanswered questions. It is quite possible he finds a consistent place in Arteta’s lineup and gets back to his old form. But for now, I suggest a wait and see approach before spending big.
How do you think Willian figures into Arsenal’s plan? Will he remain a productive fantasy player? Is he in your open day roster?