What better way to prepare for the upcoming Premier League season than talking about players who won’t be playing in it?
As the preseason comes to an end, we’re taking a quick look at Arsenal’s standout youth players. We’ll consider their individual performances, rating them on a 1-10 scale based on what we think their chances are of breaking into the first team this year.
Joseph (Joe) Willock, Number 69, Age 17
At age 17, Joe Willock is the quintessential supporting cast member. The center midfielder wasn’t particularly exciting to watch and he lacked personality, but he proved to be consistent and reliable. He looked composed on both side of the ball and made few consequential mistakes. Although he struggled to find the ball on offense, he looked confident and comfortable when he got it. His best game was against Sydney FC, where was looked dangerous getting forward and resembled Ramsey in his forward movement and box-to-box running.
In the Sevilla match, one of the announcers referred to Willock as “an insurance policy” for the offense. And it’s true. For the most part, he did little more than his job—the bare minimum. He played it relatively safe. I’d like to see Willock more get involved on in the attack, play more positive passes, and take some risks to stretch the field with his passing.
Generally, he’s a proficient tackler and a smart passer. It’s no wonder he’s already playing for the U23s.
The teenager showed why he is playing with the U23’s on Arsenal at 17 years old. The first 10 minutes of the Sydney FC match told me that Willock and Reiss were something special. Willock controlled the game well from the central midfield position and seemingly never seemed under pressure, combining well with others and staying disciplined. His standout skills are his forward attacking mindset from the deep lying midfield position, his vision of the game, and his ability to combine with his resources. Willock has a high footballing IQ and not to mention a strong defensive presence that Bayern and Sevilla experienced more than once. Joe played very well in his appearances, and it is time to get excited about this kid.
While on a healthy (lol) Arsenal team Willock may be the 6th or 7th choice midfielder, his experience with the first team will pay dividends to his development, as he recently mentioned after the Sevilla game. He is a great player, but he needs more mentoring from likes of Xhaka, Ramsey, Cazorla, etc. At times, his movement forward caused Arsenal to be exposed in the 3-4-3 formation against the Spanish side due to Ramsey’s similar behavior. At the half, Bellerin gave way to Bramall and teamed up with Willock, the creativity flowing from the left side seemed to wither. This can be dealt with by giving him more minutes with the first team.
The progress of Joe is encouraging and this starlet did nothing but raise his stock. Wenger went on record saying that Willock [and Nelson] were the standout performers: "It's a bit early but what they have shown tonight is they have a chance to be very, very close to the first team." Based on Wenger’s indifference to the Europa League competition, I think it is fair to say we will see a few appearances this season from Willock. I know we have only seen a small glimpse of this teenager, but I could not be more excited to watch him flourish.