Charlie Nicholas backs Arsenal to axe ‘seven or eight’ players this summer – but questions move for Willian

Arsenal target Willian looks on during Chelsea's FA Cup clash with Leicester City
Chelsea star Willian reportedly has his heart set on a move to Arsenal (Picture: Getty)

Charlie Nicholas has questioned whether Arsenal’s move for Willian ‘makes sense’ considering the club’s emerging young talent but sees two sides to the coin, with Mikel Arteta looking to build a strong and competitive squad over the coming years.

Willian is set for the exit door at Chelsea after seven years of service at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal are looking to lure the 31-year-old forward across London on a free transfer with a £120,000-a-week contract offer.

The winger has his heart set on joining the Gunners and has reportedly informed close friends that he turned down David Beckham’s Inter Miami to push through a summer switch to the Emirates.

Arsenal v Chelsea - FA Cup Final
Mikel Arteta has a wealth of young talent at his disposal (Picture: Getty)

Willian’s agent, Kia Joorabchian, has good relations with Arsenal and the experienced Brazil international is reluctant to leave London, with his family settled in the capital.

Asked about the rumours linking Arsenal with Philippe Coutinho, Jack Grealish and Willian, Nicholas told Off The Ball: ‘Sometimes they discouraged me, I have to be honest.

‘In terms of Willian, he’s a free agent so you can get him on the cheap, you give him a big salary and say: “Right, are you good enough?”

‘This guy is a quality player, I don’t deny that but his age… and I look at people like [Reiss] Nelson, like [Bukayo] Saka that want to come into the team and do well and [Gabriel] Martinelli when he comes back will be a centre-forward so I don’t really see where the purchase makes sense to Arsenal.

‘Willian as a free agent? Yeah, I can get one that because you want to build up a big squad and I expect Arsenal to offload maybe seven or eight players and it could be more.’

Mikel Arteta looks on during Arsenal's FA Cup clash with Chelsea
Arsenal’s head coach is desperate to strengthen his squad this summer (Picture: Getty)

Nicholas expects Arsenal to generate funds from the sale of ‘seven or eight’ first-team players this summer and has urged his former club to prioritise signing two more central defenders with the cash raised.

‘William Saliba has signed and will start the new campaign which is great. He’s young, he’s fast but he’s still slightly naive when I watched him playing for Saint-Etienne,’ the ex-Arsenal forward added.

‘But we need two more centre-backs and I do believe we need a right-back. No disrespect but I think Sokratis’ [Papastathopoulos] time is up, I know [Shkodran] Mustafi’s injured so we can’t sell but I think his time is up.

‘Rob Holding I think has been unfairly treated because it’s not his fault they couldn’t make him better. Can he reach the heights that I expected him to get to? I’m not sure so if an offer comes in, I would sell him.

‘Arsenal’s masterplan has to be two centre-backs, cover in case Kieran Tierney were to get injured again – Kolasinac fits that but he’s not a natural defender – and then I see seven or eight players getting sold.’

Former Arsenal forward Charlie Nicholas speaks at an event for Sky Sports
Nicholas hopes Arsenal prioritise strengthening in central defence this summer (Picture: Getty)

Nicholas continued: ‘I would like to see Ceballos staying again and it looks as though that’s possible.

‘I’m not a great believer in the protectors in front of a back-three. Yes you need there, they’re there for a reason but Gilberto Silva wasn’t the most physical or the quickest we ever had.

‘You need someone who understands the position and [Granit] Xhaka doesn’t always do it for me. He gives the ball away too cheaply so I wouldn’t mind someone in the position also beside Ceballos.

‘[Lucas] Torreira will go, [Matteo] Guendouzi will go and with the sales Arsenal get that could bring us forward to really go for three defenders. That’s where the problems have always been and surely Arteta has seen it. I believe he has.’

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