Mikel Arteta says it’s only normal that Willian’s performances for Arsenal have come under the microscope but he believes the player deserves to be protected because of his professional attitude on and off the pitch.
Asked a somewhat pointed question about the Brazilian’s form in his pre-Benfica press conference, it wasn’t exactly surprising that the boss opted to defend the 32-year-old’s reputation although you suspect that privately he’s more than a little frustrated at his inability to get the best from the summer signing from Chelsea.
“What he’s doing at the moment, the way he’s training, the way he’s working, the way he’s willing to give everything to the team is what I demand,” Arteta said on Wednesday night.
“Whether he’s more successful or less successful in the game is another matter, it will come with the quality that he has but this is what I demand to every player.
“A full commitment and to put the passion and everything they have in every training session and when they have the opportunity to play and so far Willian has done that every single day.”
Asked if criticism of the midfielder, who three assists in 24 appearances this season, has been undeserved, Arteta added: “I don’t say it’s unfair because with Willy the expectation is really high in terms of the goals he can score.
“The assists he can create, you expect him to be in the starting lineup as well so it’s normal that people write things about him. We have to protect him, we have to support him as much as we can because he deserves it from the way he handles his profession and the way he is with us.”
Since the turn of the year, Willian has completed 90 minutes just once and appears to have fallen down the pecking order behind Emile Smith Rowe and new loan signing Martin Odegaard. It remains to be seen whether he’s given a chance to shine against Benfica. “He’s part of the squad so he’s got a good chance,” noted Arteta.