Before the arrival of Martin Ødegaard and the emergence of Emile-Smith Rowe, Arsenal were longing for a creative presence in the heart of midfield. Having chosen to omit German World Cup winner Mesut Özil from the 2020/21 Premier League squad, the options for manager Mikel Arteta looked few and far between.
However, a glimmer of hope could be found in the form of English academy product Joe Willock. Prior to his loan move northeast to Steve Bruce’s Newcastle United, Arsenal fans had been treated to a number of solid performances by the young midfielder, most notably in the Europa League against the likes of Dundalk and Rapid Vienna
Early signs of quality
It was under previous manager Unai Emery that Willock had his breakthrough, making 29 Premier League appearances in the 2019/20 season, which was amongst the most in the Arsenal side that year. Impressive performances, paired with an absolute rocket against Liverpool in the EFL Cup, shot the midfielder up the pecking order in North London.
However, since the arrival of Mikel Arteta, the frequency of Willock’s appearances have decreased as the Spanish coach favours players such as Smith-Rowe and Dani Ceballos to provide the creative touch from midfield.
Willock may have struggled to make the huge impact on the Arsenal first team that he was hoping for this season, but there is one thing that is difficult to argue with – the 21-year-old is a very classy footballer. He is the type of player that football-lovers just adore watching. Whether it be via a quick one-two with his midfield partner, or a smart stepover to beat his man, the young Englishman makes football look much easier than it really is.
While Arsenal fans have seen glimpses of his class in the first team over the last few years, it is at Newcastle where Willock is really proving his worth. He has been a regular starter since joining the Magpies in January, where he has been given the chance to show his class on the highest level once again.
An instant impact
It took just 16 minutes for the young midfielder to open his Newcastle account, as he calmly slotted an Allan Saint-Maximin cross past Alex McCarthy in the Southampton net – a sign of things to come for the Magpies faithful.
Since joining the northeast side on deadline day, Willock has added a new dimension to the Newcastle midfield. While results may have not improved drastically, there is a newfound creativity and pace in transition when the Magpies are attacking. Willock has been the catalyst to these changes through his hard work off the ball and his clear-to-see high-level footballing brain.
While he has only been there for a matter of weeks, the midfield partnership that he has begun to develop with former Arsenal midfielder Isaac Hayden has been a cause for hope in the Newcastle camp; they portray an understanding of each other that certainly wasn’t present in the midfield prior to Willock’s arrival. Whether that be down to their footballing pedigree, with both coming through the ranks at Hale End, fans will never be sure.
While Newcastle struggle for form near the bottom of the Premier League standings, Willock, along with the rest of the Magpies, will be hoping that they can improve quickly in order to maintain their status as a top-flight side.
The 21-year-old will be keen to impress while he has the chance to play regular first team football before heading back down to London Colney to fight for his place in an Arsenal side that look to challenge for one of the European places.
One thing is for certain - should Joe Willock continue his upward development, Arsenal could potentially have their hands on a real Rolls Royce of a creative midfielder in the future.