When Joe Willock was handed his Premier League debut against Newcastle United in April 2018, he became the fourth player who was born after Arsene Wenger's first match in charge to make a Premier League appearance for Arsenal. Three years later, the Gunners midfielder would sign on the dotted line as the final signing of Mike Ashley's Magpies tenure.
Wenger handed Willock his Premier League debut at just 18-years of age, becoming the 56th teenager in Arsenal's history to play in the division. The England youth international played 68 minutes, managing 47 touches, 80 per cent pass accuracy and one shot on target, before being replaced by Danny Welbeck.
When asked about his decision to play Willock, Wenger replied: “He does well in training but the real step is in the competition. It’s a good opportunity for him and a good chance for me to see whether he’s ready to play regularly at this level.”
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After the game, Wenger told the Evening Standard: “He played like a young boy. You see the talent and you also see the lack of experience in some situations of the game, but overall I believe it was promising.”
Arsenal supporters would see glimpses of what Willock had to offer, but it was at Newcastle that he really sent out a message. The Magpies loan move the then Arsenal midfielder was one of the signings of the January window in 2020/21.
Willock would send a message to those at the Emirates that he was no longer that 'young boy' Wenger mentioned and that he was ready for more first team football. The Magpies loanee scored a remarkable eight goals in 14 appearances last year, equalling the club record of consecutive games scored in, set by Alan Shearer.
Newcastle signed the midfielder on the back of that loan spell, and while Willock may have struggled to recapture that form, he's been a regular starter for the Magpies this season. The 22-year-old penned a six-year deal at St. James' Park and still has plenty of time ahead of him to develop his game and improve.
Speaking after his debut against the Magpies, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry was full of praise to the Gunners academy graduate. Henry told the Mail: Willock “He is a good player, good technical ability, he can run. He is the perfect example of when you don't give up and push yourself, you can achieve great things.”
Things may not have worked out at the Emirates in order to achiever those 'great things' but it's easy to forget how young Willock is in relation to those around him. The midfielder already has a wealth of experience and has played in the Europa League, which is the next logical step for Newcastle to aim for in the new owners long term plan.
Consistency will no doubt come as he becomes a more senior player but last summer's sole signing can surpass expectations.
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