Joe Willock: The young Arsenal player always on the rise
A look at Joe Willock and why he’s suddenly become one of the most exciting young talents at Arsenal after breaking into the first team
Joe Willock is the youngest of three Willock’s to come through the Arsenal academy. Eldest Matt, 22, left for Man United in 2012 and this summer joined Gillingham. The middle of the three, Chris, 21, left the Gunners in 2017 for Benfica and has joined West Brom on loan for the 2019-20 season. But it is the youngest brother Joe, 19, who is currently making the most noise.
A central midfielder who is most comfortable playing slightly further forward, Willock’s two impressive starts this season have not gone unnoticed. He works hard off the ball and seems extremely comfortable in possession, always making himself available and attempting to create space with dynamic movement.
Willock made his Arsenal debut in quiet fashion against Newcastle in Wenger’s final season, but it has been under Unai Emery where Willock has made his presence known. Scoring against Vorskla Poltava in the Europa League last season and bagging a brace against Blackpool in the EFL cup, Willock’s name slowly began to be mentioned more frequently, being tipped to succeed alongside other Hale End graduates such as Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah.
While Mesut Ozil struggled to find any form and with Aaron Ramsey destined for the exit door, the noise around Willock grew more prominent with many inside the club firmly believing in his talents. Of course, with all young players there is tendency to overhype, or more likely, an inadequacy on the player’s behalf to replicate the performances within the under 23’s.
However, Joe Willock has not had any such issues. Any time he was given an opportunity last season, he impressed with his seemingly fragile makeup but surprisingly tough standing. On the surface it appears Willock could be shoved off the ball, in reality, he’s a tough cookie to crack.
This has already been proven this season with his hard working slide tackle after being pushed to the floor by Jonjo Shelvey. Unai Emery celebrated the recovery like a goal, for Willock it was further proof of his determination to impress.
Willock’s true announcement to the first team came in a bittersweet fashion. Arsenal were already 4-1 down in Baku when the number 59 was put up in green lights on the substitute board. Willock was replacing the lackluster Mesut Ozil and the sub was seen in spite to Ozil rather than a prop to Willock. However, within an impressive ten minute cameo, Willock managed to put Chelsea’s defence on the back foot and nearly bagged a very skilful consolation goal.
It was not meant to be on the night, but the etchings of Willock’s potential had been printed in to Arsenal fan’s psyche. Suddenly the future wasn’t so bleak as now the club had a young starlet on their hands who seemed relatively unknown.
Again, caution was required and the temptation to pour pressure on Willock had to be resisted. However, any supposed pressure seemed to have gone over Willock’s head. Putting in numerous impressive pre-season displays, there were similarities to be made with Guendouzi from last season; a young player seemed to be grabbing his opportunity to impress Emery whilst on tour.
And just like Guendozi, Emery rewarded those performances as Willock earned himself a start on the first game of the season against Newcastle. Playing in the number ten role, Willock never looked out of place, offering a respectful display as he wiggled past defenders, kept the ball with ease and always looked to bring other players into play.
This takes us to the Saturday just gone where Willock was trusted with another 90 minutes to further reinforce his position in the starting eleven. It was Dani Ceballos that understandably took the plaudits, but with Mesut Ozil suffering illness alongside worrying security concerns, there’s a real opportunity for the Joe Willock to get a real run of games under his belt.
There’s a long way to go for Willock, but if he can maintain his consistency and keep improving, he may even be fortunate enough to be considered by Gareth Southgate.
Willock moved from number 59 to 28 this season and with jumps like that, who would bet against him to becoming the future Arsenal number 10. At this point in time, not many Arsenal fans and more so, it would be a fantastic achievement by the academy, the manager and most importantly, Joe Willock.
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