Willian has confirmed his departure from Chelsea ahead of his expected move across London to join rivals Arsenal.
The Brazilian leaves Stamford Bridge following the expiration of his contract after seven years at the club, despite Frank Lampard’s attempts to tie him down to a new deal.
Willian, who turned 32 on Sunday, is expected to sign a three-year deal at Arsenal with the option of a further 12 months, though the north London club were on Sunday night still finalising details of move.
In an open letter to the Chelsea supporters, Willian acknowledged the criticism he has received from fans at various stages of his career at the club but said he had enjoyed a “wonderful” time at Stamford Bridge.
“In August 2013 when I received the offer from Chelsea, I was convinced that this was where I had to play,” Willian wrote. “Today I am certain that it was the best of decisions. There were so many happy times, some sad, there were trophies and it was always very intense.
“Yet, beyond the trophies, I learnt a lot about myself. I developed a great deal, becoming a better player and a better person. With each training session, with each game, with every minute spent in the dressing room, I was always learning.
“I am really grateful to the Chelsea fans for the affectionate way they welcomed me at Stamford Bridge and their support throughout my time at the club.
“There was also criticism, which is normal, what is important though is that both the affection and criticism drove me to always give my all in every training session, every game, to be constantly improving until my very last minute in a Chelsea shirt.”
Willian’s salary offer from Arsenal is expected to be lower than the offer from Chelsea, although it will include various bonuses. A key factor in his departure has been Chelsea’s unwillingness to offer him a three-year deal, rather than two years.
If his move to Arsenal is completed as expected, Willian will provide Mikel Arteta with a versatile and experienced attacking option who can operate on either flank or in a more central position.
Arsenal have been lacking creativity in recent months, with Arteta able to solidify the defence since his appointment but yet to impose the free-flowing attacking football he was expected to oversee.
It is understood that Arteta specifically requested the signing of Willian, despite the concerns over his age and the length of his contract. His arrival will be a sign as an important step in the rebuild of the Arsenal squad, which lacks experienced leaders.
It comes despite Arsenal announcing last week that 55 members of staff will be made redundant, with the club still looking to invest in the team despite their financial difficulties.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s defeat by Bayern Munich in the Champions League, Lampard had said there would be no negative feelings from him or Chelsea when he leaves.
Willian missed the 4-1 defeat with an Achilles injury, having also missed the FA Cup final against Arsenal the previous weekend.
“I know Willian well, I have seen him,” Lampard said. “He has carried this injury a little bit in the latter part of restart. In terms of being disappointed, certainly as a club we have done everything we can to explain to Willian.
“Mine and his relationship is very close and I would have no feeling of disappointment if he does move on. He is a fantastic man and a fantastic player.
“When I came in and we had a lot of issues in terms of younger players, players back from loan, transitional elements to the group, Willian was one you relied on in terms of his experience and quality.”