Mikel Arteta insists that Arsenal have to “protect” Willian and admitted that he has likely to start for the Gunners’ against Benfica in the Europa League on Thursday.
The former Chelsea midfielder hasn’t made the desired impact in north London since joining on a free transfer last summer.
Willian has made three assists in 18 Premier League appearances, with two of those assists coming on the opening day of the season against Fulham.
But his desire and commitment is unquestioned according to Arteta, who believes that the 32-year-old will eventually showcase his best form for the club.
“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,” said Arteta.
“Whether he’s more successful or less successful in the game is another matter, it will come with the quality that he has.
“At least what I demand with every player is full commitment and to put the passion they have in every training session and when they have the opportunity to play.
“And so far Willian is doing that every single day.”
The Brazil international has received widespread criticism from fans and pundits alike for his unimpressive performances this season, but Arteta understands why and says the best response is for those inside the club to support the midfielder.
“No I don’t say [the criticism] it’s unfair because obviously with Willy expectations are really high in terms of the goals he can score, the assists he can create.
“You expect him to be in the starting line-up as well so it’s normal that people write things about him.
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“We have to protect him, we have to support him as much as he can because he deserves it the way he handles his profession and the way he is every day with us.”
When asked if Willian will play against Benfica on Thursday, the Arsenal boss added:
“He’s part of the squad so he’s got a really good chance.”
Arsenal face Benfica in Rome as they play the first leg of their Europa League round of 32 match.
Kieran Tierney has travelled with the squad and is available but Thomas Partey remains on the sidelines with a muscular injury.