Underwhelming on the pitch since he signed in the summer, Willian’s social media channels have been a lightning rod for fans frustrated by his and Arsenal’s recent failings on the pitch.
While the Brazilian says he can accept criticism about his performances, he wants it known that he won’t tolerate racism or vile messages directed at his family and has backed the Gunners #StopOnlineAbuse campaign.
Launching the initiative last week, the club called on supporters to play their part in identifying, condemning and highlighting such posts when they are shared on social media.
Facing the media ahead of Thursday’s Europa League quarter-final first leg with Slavia Prague, the 31-year-old touched on the impact the abuse has had on him this season.
“I was in that situation one month ago,” he said. “It was very difficult for me because I have a lot of things on my phone and I saw a lot of horrible words against my family for example. After that, I said to myself, ‘Enough is enough, I have to try something’ – to take action against racism and online abuse. I am proud because the club is doing that, they are helping us a lot and I will never stop my fight against racism.”
“It’s really, really affected me when they say about my family,” he added. “As I’ve said before, if they want to criticise me, that’s no problem, I will always accept that. But when they come to attack you and your family with bad words that I cannot say here, that hurts. That’s really affected me and it’s a big problem.
“I feel that straight away I want to delete my social media accounts. I have seen some people [do that] because of the racism and the abuse and straight away I want to do that, but when you think and take a few minutes and relax a little bit more… but the first action is to delete straight away!”
Asked if he was scared to look at his phone after certain matches, he admitted it had been the case.
“Sometimes yes, to be honest, because we are human. I want to understand who these people are and who they think they are to come to speak like that with us. We are professional and we do the best to help the team on the pitch.
“We want to win and we always want to win. We never want to lose, but we have our bad days and sometimes we’re not feeling good and having problems like everyone has.
“We have personal problems and families have a lot of problems as well, so sometimes you’re not in a good day, you have a bad game and they come and they say these kind of words that hurt you. That’s why we want to stop it. Enough is enough.”
When it comes to countering racism in football, it would certainly help if football’s governing bodies made more of an effort to punish supporters and players found guilty of such behaviour.
Uefa announced yesterday that Slavia Prague’s Ondrej Kudela, who was already injured, has been ruled out of tomorrow’s match at the Emirates due to a provisional one-game ban while they investigate allegations he racially abused Rangers’ Glen Kamara.
The incident during the Europa League last-32 tie garnered headlines across the world but the punishment, which could still be extended, has been dismissed by Kamara’s lawyer as “tokenism.”