What Joe Willock can bring to Arsenal’s midfield that we are currently lacking
By @AFCMax9 (Twitter)
Joe Willock. An underrated footballer by many, and a misunderstood quantity at Arsenal perhaps. His talent is undeniable- if he can work to reach his potential, Willock will no doubt forge a career at the top level for years to come. His engine, movement and other attributes all add to his modern-day playing style, and yet, despite Arsenal’s uncertainty in settling their midfield pivot, Joe Willock is yet to be given a proper chance under Mikel Arteta.
For now, it seems, the boss has made it clear in his mind that the 21-year-old Hale Ender will be no more than a cup player this season, with the Englishman yet to compete a single minute in the Premier League in the 2020/21 campaign. Here’s why I believe Joe Willock could be the man to help fill a void we currently have in our squad.
In recent years, Arsenal’s midfield has developed a reputation for its inconsistency and imbalance, and this dilemma was only exacerbated by the departure of Aaron Ramsey in the summer of 2019. Having a balanced and able midfield is crucial to absolutely every side with ambitions to perform to the very best of world football; if you look at the most dominant teams in Europe right now- Bayern Munich, Liverpool and PSG- they all have that strong pivot in their side that Arsenal fans have been craving for year. Even our closest rivals have developed somewhat of a complete pivot, with Tottenham’s signings of Hojberg, Ndombele and Lo Celso all in the last 15 months helping them fly up the table to where they sit now. So, why have Arsenal still not addressed this problem, and what can be done to fix it?
Undoubtedly, the signing of Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid on the Summer Deadline Day just months ago was a huge step forward in our pursuit of midfield balance- he added the physicality, ability to progress the ball and excellent passing range we needed, but we’re still not complete. From our current selection of midfielders, we have none who can claim a large number of goal involvements each season. Whilst each player has their own specific skill set, Ramsey’s incredible box-to-box engine- the ability to drop deep defensively whilst also making runs in behind the opposition defence has been thoroughly missed since his departure, and is something we desperately need to add to our team. With the club unable to compete any more business to address this issue in the summer due to financial constraints, it is now time we look within our own squad for a short-term solution whilst we wait to strengthen our squad.
For me, there is no player at the club in the present moment that could fulfill this role better than Joe Willock. Many aspects of his game can be likened to that of Ramsey; both love to make late runs into the box and offer that new dimension and unprecitability to the midfield. His awareness of movement is remarkable for a player his age, and it is perfectly clear that this is where he thrives most on the football pitch.
Willock’s engine also adds to his excellent attributes- he plays with an energy and enthusiasm that can be matched by very few, with his willingness to travel from box to box in the transition the most explicit example of this. Furthermore, when given the opportunity this season, the Hale End graduate has excelled- contributing two goals and as many assists in just three appearances so far in the Europa League. His goal involvements could prove absolutely vital for Arsenal, who rely far too much on the output of club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Whilst he may not be the creative spark myself and almost every Arsenal fan wants, Willock could add a new level of threat to opposition lines, creating opportunities and clearing congested areas for his teammates.
By no means am I suggesting that Joe Willock is of the ability and ready to start for Arsenal Football Club on a consistent basis. It is clear he has his weaknesses; he has got to work on his consistency, vision and final ball. But, in a time where Arsenal need to find a short-term solution to an urgent lack of incision in the midfield, I wholeheartedly believe that the Hale Ender has to be given a chance, in some capacity. What is there to lose? Even using him as a substitute would change the dynamic of our attack and give our opponents something to react to, because quite frankly our midfield at present is incredibly stagnant.
Joe Willock is a very unique player, and a one-of-a-kind at Arsenal. He has to be given proper opportunities to prove his worth in the Premier League. It’s that simple.