Alan Smith has praised Willian for his ‘invigorated’ performance in Arsenal’s win over Leicester last weekend but insists his ‘one lively display doesn’t answer many questions’.
The Brazilian arrived at the Emirates on a free transfer last summer after his contract at Chelsea expired but he has largely struggled to make an impact.
However, Willian looked sharp when he was brought on as a substitute in Arsenal’s victory against Benfica in the Europa League last week as he set up Kieran Tierney’s goal which sparked their dramatic comeback in Athens.
The 32-year-old was then selected from the start against Leicester and rewarded his manager’s faith in him with another impressive display in which he played a key part in both David Luiz and Nicolas Pepe’s goals.
Willian was previously being kept out of the side by youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, who have been two of the Gunners’ most consistent performers of late. And although former Gunners striker Smith hopes Willian can build on his promising performance at Leicester, he fears the winger could well revert to the sub-par form which saw him come under scrutiny.
‘We have to thank the youngsters for leading the charge,’ Smith told the Evening Standard.
‘Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and more recently Martin Odegaard have injected fresh legs and ideas into Arsenal’s game. Without them, especially Saka, the team may have kept on sinking towards murky waters.
‘But now some senior players need to take the strain, to give the kids a rest from providing the impetus. Inexperience leads to dips. It’s a natural part of development. Sooner or later form will suffer a bit, as seen for a short spell with Smith Rowe.
‘Because of that, Mikel Arteta must have been delighted to see Willian perk up at Leicester last week. A long time coming, perhaps, but this was more like it from the former Chelsea man. He looked sharp and invigorated as if he’d had enough of being labelled a flop.
‘I was beginning to give up on the Brazilian. I thought he’d come for the ride rather than the responsibility of helping hoist this side onto a higher plane. And that might still be the case. One lively display doesn’t answer many questions.
‘You never know, Willian might slip back into the lethargy that won him few friends. ‘Let’s hope not, though, because a motivated and vibrant Willian offers so much. His contrasting style to other players in that position gives Arteta a very handy option when it comes to rotating his team from here on in.’