Arsenal midfielder Willian says he endured the “worst” period of his professional career when he lost his place in the side earlier this season, but feels he is finally approaching something close to his best.
The 32-year-old signed a three-year contract worth a reported £200,000 a week when he joined Mikel Arteta’s on a free transfer from Chelsea last summer.
Some disappointing early performances led to some critics questioning Arteta’s wisdom in signing the player, particularly on such reportedly high wages, but he finally looks to be repaying the Spaniard’s faith in his ability.
What did Willian say?
Speaking to ESPN Brazil, Willian said: “It really was a very difficult start, apart from that first game against Fulham, where I had a good performance [setting up two of the three goals in a 3-0 win], I managed to make a good game.
“Even after that game there were some games that we won, I even had a good game, but then we ended up getting a bad streak.
“I also got a bad streak and I think my worst professional time to date, since I went up at Corinthians and was sold to Ukraine, then I arrived at Chelsea, without a doubt. This phase that passed now was the worst time that I think I lived as a professional.
“Of course, when you live in a difficult moment, you get really upset and try to find solutions, a way to improve, try to help the team.
“That's what I've been doing all this time, I never stopped training, to work, to dedicate myself as much as possible.
“It took a little while to leave, but lately in the last games I've been playing well again, standing out with assists, playing well. So I'm happy to be back to find my good football.”
The bigger picture
Willian was billed as a risk-free signing when he moved to north London last summer given he arrived without a fee and was settled in the capital having already spent seven successful years at Chelsea.
However, in his first 25 appearances in all competitions he failed to score and contributed just three assists, with two of those coming in that opening day win at Fulham.
He subsequently lost his place in the starting XI over the Christmas period, with the likes of Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe favoured ahead of him.
His cause was perhaps not helped by the fact he has played in a side that has struggled for consistency. There has, however, been signs in recent weeks that both player and club are starting to hit form as they approach the season run-in.
Willian has four assists in his last five appearances while Arsenal have lost just once in their last 10 matches in all competitions - a 1-0 Europa League defeat at Olympiakos that was’t enough to prevent them from progressing through to the last 16.
A north London derby victory over Tottenham and further Premier League wins against Leeds and Leicester have also lifted the club up to sixth in table and within two wins of the top six with nine games left.