Mikel Arteta claims Joe Willock remains part of his plans ahead of the new season – although his latest comments on the midfielder’s future weren’t all that convincing.
Talk of the 21-year-old returning had gone, but rumours were rife on NUFC Twitter when he was left out of Arsenal’s pre-season defeat at Hibernian – especially when his absence was followed by The Times reporting that we’d opened talks over a potential loan bid.
The Gunners boss was asked after the game about his two young midfield options – including goalscorer Emile Smith-Rowe – who has attracted interest from Aston Villa earlier in the window.
Interestingly, his stance on Willock wasn’t as convincing as his comments regarding Smith Rowe’s future, stating the latter would “100% stay”, however he
This is what he said after their 2-1 defeat, confirming that the ex-NUFC loanee missed out with a ‘groin issue’:
“Without a question. Yes. He (Smith Rowe) will stay here. 100%.
“No comment (when asked about Aston Villa’s bids).
“Well he (Willock) wasn’t involved today because he had a little groin issue.
“He trained yesterday really well but we didn’t want to risk him.
“Joe is part of our plans, he’s our player and in the time that he is here we will try to make the most out of him.
“He had a great experience on loan. He was, I think, one of the most important players for their survival.”
Some odd phrases from Arteta here, with the line ‘in the time that he is here we will try to make the most out of him’ seeming an odd way of putting it if he’s a part of his long-term plans…
Willock’s absence already leaves a huge hole in a Toon side that started to look like a threat towards the backend of last season.
As a boyhood Arsenal fan, he will likely prefer trying to crack into the first-team than come back to a team fighting for little other than survival under Steve Bruce.
That said, Arteta’s comments tell me he’s far more determined to keep Smith-Rowe than he is Willock, giving us a potential glimmer of hope.
If playing time for this average Arsenal side remain few and far between, then I believe a move would become a lot easier to do perhaps in January or this time next year – and, by that time, his price rage may have even taken a hit to make him much more affordable.