Few players have done more to affect the race to finish in the Premier League’s top four than Joe Willock in recent weeks.
First, the Newcastle United midfielder scored a late equaliser against Tottenham Hotspur on April 4, which was surely appreciated by his parent club Arsenal. Then came a late winner against West Ham on April 17 and a stoppage time leveller against away to Liverpool last Saturday.
Almost single-handedly, Willock has robbed three Champions League hopefuls of seven points. The 21-year-old has certainly caught the eye since making the loan move to the North East in the January transfer window, raising questions over what his future will be once he returns to Arsenal this summer.
Steve Bruce has dropped strong hints that he would like to sign Joe Willock permanently with reports stating an offer of £20 million might be enough to persuade Arsenal to let the young midfielder leave this summer. Given what Willock has produced for the Magpies these last few weeks, that would represent a bargain.
“I think Joe’s thoroughly enjoying it here,” the Newcastle boss said recently. “There’s a lot of conversations to be had but why wouldn’t we want to sign him? He’s 21, he’s young, fit, athletic, he can score a goal and he’s got wonderful pace. He’s got a big future. He’s the right type, the right profile – you’d love to build a team around a young player like Joe. If there’s a chance to bring him here next season, I’d love to get it done.”
Arsenal, however, would be foolish to sell Willock, at least at this point of his career Mikel Arteta might not want to build his side around the 21-year-old like Bruce wants to at Newcastle United, but the England youth international deserves another opportunity to prove his worth at the Emirates Stadium.
When it comes to making decisions on which young players to keep and which to let leave, Arsenal have a dreadful record. They persisted with the likes of Alex Iwobi and Calum Chambers while the likes of Serge Gnabry and Donyell Malen have departed to flourish elsewhere. The Gunners can’t make the same mistake with Joe Willock.
Arteta could be short of central midfield options for next season. Dani Ceballos isn’t expected to stay in North London following two years on loan from Real Madrid. Mateo Guendouzi will return from Hertha Berlin, but the Frenchman will almost certainly be on his way out again after falling out with Arteta last season.
Martin Odegaard will reportedly be targeted as a permanent signing, but there’s no guarantee the Norwegian will be back at the Emirates Stadium next season. Even if he is, Arsenal will need options in the centre of the pitch. They don’t have many goalscoring midfielders in the mould of Joe Willock.
This summer will be a critical one for Arsenal. They are still very much a work-in-progress under Arteta, with the Spaniard expected to make a number of signings in key areas. The Gunners must find the right players. They must, however, keep the right players, with a good number free to leave North London at the end of the season.
There are many more players who should be pushed out of the Emirates Stadium exit door before Joe Willock. The 21-year-old has provided a hint of what he could offer Arsenal while on loan at Newcastle United. There is plenty for Arteta to work with. Willock must be a part of his plans for the future otherwise Arsenal risk regretting another bad decision on a young player.
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