The dust has started to settle on the weekend’s nerve-wracking victory over Southampton. To use a cliche, it was a game of two halves and the events that transpired were typical of this football club.
In fact, everything felt familiar except the result. From the periods of entertaining attacking football, to the three injuries suffered and the red card shown to Jeff Hendrick. Newcastle United nearly stole defeat from the jaws of victory, but they ground out the three points.
Everyone connected to the team deserves a great amount of credit, but one player that stood out was Joe Willock on his debut.
The signing was met with a mixed reaction. Some were happy that the club managed to sign a mobile box-to-box midfielder, as it was a profile of player that the squad didn’t have.
Meanwhile, there was scepticism from others about loaning a player from another Premier League club, only to improve them and see no long-term benefit. On Saturday, he showed why the club brought him to the club, as he made an immediate impact and played his part in a key victory.
It was his goal threat that stood out most of all, as he was regularly making forward runs to support the attacking players. This season, we have been struggling to get bodies around Callum Wilson. Jonjo Shelvey does get into the penalty area on occasion, but he doesn’t have the athleticism to regularly make these runs.
The first goal on Saturday came as a result of Willock arriving late into the box to meet an Allan Saint-Maximin pull-back. In his post-match interview, he said that he had spoken to the Frenchman before the game to tell him to look for that pass as Willock would be there. This shows great intelligence and confidence in his own game.
In possession, Willock was very effective in the attacking third and he was key to the front-foot attacking style in the first half. The midfielder completed two dribbles and made two key passes. He and Joelinton linked-up well down the right-wing to create the chance for Jonjo Shelvey at the start of the second half. On another day, he would have had an assist to go with his goal.
His first half attacking contributions were impressive and showed the talent that he has on the ball. However, it was his second half performance that showed his battling qualities and desire to fully commit to this loan spell. It would have been easy for Willock to drop his head and ease his way through when playing as part of a 10-man and 9-man team. He is a loanee and the results of the team don’t matter as much for him.
It can be argued that his work rate and defensive contribution were even more important to the end result. Willock made five tackles during the match, which was more than any other player on the pitch. This season, we have been passive in a lot of matches, but the 21-year-old will get in the faces of opposition players.
Further to his tackling, the midfielder made two interceptions and two clearances to aid the defensive effort. Willock looks to be a perfect fit for the new pressing style. Against Southampton, he made 26 pressures, which was more than any other player on the pitch.
It was only one performance, but it bodes well for the rest of the season. Willock seems to be excited about his loan spell and is looking to really embrace his role for us. If he can maintain this level of performance, the club should be doing everything in their power to make the move permanent.
Some may think that is unrealistic, but Arsenal have had issues managing their wage bill. If they don’t qualify for the Champions League, they may need to raise money and they may be tempted to sell Willock.
That can be put to one side for now, but as a fan, I’m excited to see more of Joe Willock in a black and white shirt.