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Let’s chat about the Willian in the room

Willian flouting the rules goes beyond just allowed or not and into his responsibility as an ‘elite athlete’.

It feels like we need to talk about the Willian in the room, right now. Sadly, I’m not referring to his play either, although we could write a lengthy review of the let down he has proved to be so far during his time at Arsenal.

Willian was signed to a 3-year deal with Arsenal, in a move that I rather openly believed was a poor decision. It felt like 3-years suggested Arsenal had not learned from their past mistakes. While I was readily hoping to be proven wrong, and there is plenty of time to for it to still happen, this year was the one year I thought just MAYBE Arsenal would be validated in their decision. It was the remaining two years that worried me.

Willian was supposed to be a versatile, Swiss-army player that could be plugged into any attacking gap Arsenal developed while offering Arteta Premier League experience and technical security. It hasn’t happened.

The most cynical will even argue his match against Fulham was a a flawed performance papered over by two assists coming from a set piece and an incredible finish from Aubameyang. However, in a side devoid of creators, he did create 5 chances, 2 shots, and 3 key passes.

Since then, his performances have been well beneath the mark and it’s causing people to question where he even fits within this struggling side, much less where he fits over the next three years. To make matters worse off the field, images emerged of him next to “Salt Bae”, restauranteur in Dubai, seemingly in breach of guidelines passed down to stymie the progression of Covid.

Willian asserts in his own defense that his trip did not flout the guidelines because it was made for business reasons. The English rules clearly state, “traveling away from home, including internationally, is restricted from England except in limited circumstances such as for work or for education.”

Since returning, Arsenal have alerted him to the fact that he will have to return a negative test before he is allowed to rejoin the team, but it will be interesting to see how Arteta reacts.

We know that Mikel is a stickler for the rules, has his “non-negotiables”, and often takes team and player punishment into his own hands. Matteo Guendouzi’s situation may be an apt, albeit different, example. So, how will Arteta handle a seasoned veteran, who isn’t performing to the level anyone wants, gallivanting over to Dubai for a “business trip”, where it’s quite clear that business overlaps with personal fun?

Maybe Arteta’s reaction is also besides the point, although I would like to see him take this seriously because Willian’s decision making here is poor, it’s flawed, and it’s potentially dangerous.

Arsenal have had two players test positive for Covid during this international break — Mohammed Elneny and Sead Kolasinac. People are up in arms over the belief that international duty is a huge mistake from world football. It’s dangerous and it undoes the work clubs have done in the past six months to create a safe environment that protects players and staff.

And it’s true. By having players leave this manufactured safety net where the club and staff are capable of controlling as much as possible, to send them on international travel, you put players at risk, teammates at risk, and subsequently their families at home.

Yet, here we have a player that has gone off and done that all on his own. It’s is a frustrating point and one that derails the message being sent as a whole, all so he could have some lovely sea salt sprinkled seductively over his plate of meat…or so I assume.

Look is there a good chance that his trip was for “business”. Yeah, I’m sure. I can easily imagine that he has found a way to make the trip business related, which is why the word ‘flout’ may just be the perfect way to describe what he has done. It also makes it all the more infuriating and punishable.

“Work and education”. For the average citizen it’s a good guideline. Most people don’t have the ability to conjure up a work necessity in Dubai for their two weeks off. Yet, footballers do. And in a world where “elite athletes” are already given the green light to have a different set of rules that allow them more leniency to do their work and “raise morale”, as it was once put, I don’t recall SALT BAE being am elite athlete, nor it being a great usage of stretching the rules.

In the end, I think Mikel has to do something about this. It’s not just because I believe Pepe should be starting, although I do and he should, but it’s because athletes should be setting an example for Covid the same way they set an example through acts of charity, support of humanitarian works, and everything else they do by leveraging their stardom.

Athletes have a social responsibility to use their platform for good. They just do. But that goes beyond simply standing up for the right causes, saying the right things, and supporting the right groups through words and financial support. They also have the responsibility to show their respect and solidarity with the public for measures like this. So sure, tell me it was for business and that he hasn’t broken the rules. I believe you, but I’m not sure it squares with me as “okay”.

Sorry, Willian.

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