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Arsenal agree to sell Joe Willock to Newcastle

Well, I guess that’s why he wasn’t on the roster today.

Newcastle United v Sheffield United - Premier League Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Arsenal have agreed to sell Joe Willock to Newcastle United, per David Ornstein. The 21-year old midfielder had a fantastic half-season on loan with Steve Bruce’s side and was supposedly Newcastle’s number one transfer target this summer. Willock scored eight goals for the Magpies, including a goal in seven consecutive matches to end the Premier League season, making him the youngest player ever to accomplish that feat.

Newcastle will pay “in excess” of £20M in the deal, but still have to agree to personal terms with Willock. The deal makes the Hale End product Arsenal’s first sale of the summer, with several more senior players still in the shop window as Mikel Arteta looks to further trim his roster and generate funds for additional transfers-in (hopefully).

I was somewhat hoping that Arsenal would get more for Willock given Ollie Watkins’ £30M move to Aston Villa last summer. But to be fair, Watkins had a more established scoring record, albeit at the Championship level. If “in excess of” £20M means 22, 25M pounds, it’s a fine haul for a someone who wasn’t going to be more than a squad player for Mikel Arteta.

Willock doesn’t have a natural place in Mikel Arteta’s system. He’s not a good enough passer to play next to Emile Smith Rowe and shoulder a creative burden. He’s not good enough defensively to play deeper. And while he is a decent scorer, he’s not good enough to change the system to fit him. The “best” place for him in Arteta’s setup is as an Emile Smith Rowe backup, because they both play well in combination and run from deeper areas into the box, but even that is a stretch.

Whether you rate Willock higher and think he could amount to more is a different question, but if the manager isn’t going to play a guy regularly, getting a decent sum that can be reinvested is good, especially in this summer’s slow market.

To put it in context, that £20M+ number is approaching half of what it will likely cost Arsenal to acquire Martin Ødegaard and more than half of what I’ve seen Houssem Aouar might cost. It’s one-third of what James Maddison would cost, and while I don’t love moving for him at that number, adding his attacking creativity would definitely improve the club.

I just hope they don’t spend it on Aaron Ramsdale.

Arsenal have had a tendency to hold onto players too long, just to see them sit on the bench and lose value (hello Wolves’ £20M offer for Ainsley Maitland-Niles last summer).

As fans, we have a tendency to overvalue / be overly concerned about “what if we sold a star in the making” when it is just as likely that the club just got a steal for a player who is going to top out at 10 Premier League goals a season and be good enough, never great. That concern only increases when it’s a homegrown player. I get it. As football fans, we are especially protective of the “he’s one of our own” guys.

Willock had an xG of 4.5 last year and scored 8. Maybe he’s an exceptional finisher. Or maybe he had a good, lucky stretch, and the Gunners cashed in. Time will tell. And even if Willock does go on to play really well, if Arsenal use the money to improve too, it’s a win-win. Transfers don’t have to be a zero-sum game. It’s natural to look for who got the better deal, but moves can be right for and benefit both clubs.

I think this was the right move for Arsenal, for Newcastle, and Joe Willock. I hope he has a great season (but like has a cold when it comes time to play Arsenal that just keeps him out for that fixture). And I hope the Gunners use the money to improve the attack.