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Criticism of Arsenal's Willian is fair, admits Mikel Arteta


Mikel Arteta says he understands why Willian has come in for heavy criticism after a disappointing first six months of his Arsenal career. Willian was signed after departing Chelsea, but after an impressive debut at Fulham has largely flopped. He has lost his place in Arteta’s Premier League XI and had to settle for a place on the bench in their past six games, failing to make much impact after coming on.

As a high-profile, well-remunerated arrival his performances have come under fire and Arteta accepts that goes with the territory. “I don’t say it’s unfair because expectations are really high in terms of the goals he can score, the assists he can create,” he said of the broadsides aimed at Willian, who is yet to score in 24 appearances. “You expect him to be in the starting lineup, so it is normal that people write things about him.

“What he is doing, the way he is training, the way he is working and the way he is pushing to give everything at the team, is what I demand. Whether he is more or less successful in the game is another matter. It will come, with the quality he has.”

Willian could start against Benfica on Thursday in their Europa League round-of-32 first leg, which is nominally the Lisbon club’s home tie but will be played at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico because of Covid-19 travel restrictions between England and Portugal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has also travelled and Arteta offered little information regarding a video on Instagram that showed the forward getting a new tattoo, an act that could have breached coronavirus rules.

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“I if any player does something that is not in the regulations, the club acts immediately but always privately as well,” he said.

Arsenal suffered a heartbreaking late defeat to Olympiakos at this stage of last season’s competition and Arteta wants the memory of that to drive them on this time. “It was a really tough experience for all of us, the way it happened,” he said. “But as well I think that created more hunger to do more this season.”



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