Joe Willock has recently proved pivotal for Newcastle, were Arsenal wrong in letting him out on loan?
Arsenal borrower Joe Willock seems to be finding his niche in Newcastle at the right time in their battle to beat the drop.
After a perfect start to life at Newcastle, scoring on his home debut against Southampton, things went a bit too quiet for the young English midfielder.
But his recent resurgence may have proved pivotal for Newcastle in their bid to maintain their Premier League status, scoring three crucial goals in the space of three top matches.
Joe Willock has scored three crucial goals for Newcastle in the last three league matches
Willock’s late goal for Newcastle against Tottenham was a delight to Arsenal supporters
Willock delighted Arsenal fans after scoring the late equalizer for Newcastle at home against Tottenham on Easter Sunday, before emphatically driving home the winner against West Ham last Saturday.
He followed that with yet another dramatic strike – equalizing the death at Anfield to secure a much-needed point against Liverpool.
The 21-year-old’s crucial goals have left Newcastle on the verge of safety – with the Magpies nine points from the relegation zone.
He also scored an equalizing goal in the 95th minute for Newcastle to dent Liverpool’s top four expectations
Willock’s late goalscoring heroics have left manager Steve Bruce, while still at the club this summer, to do everything he can to keep him in St James’ Park.
Reported Friday in The Telegraph claimed Newcastle is trying to strike a permanent deal this summer, but it would cost them around £ 20 million.
Leading up to Saturday’s lunch trip to Liverpool, Bruce said: ‘It was quite refreshing to hear him talk yesterday (Thursday) about going out and seeing the sea, driving to the coast.
‘I live in London, I don’t think he sees that that often. I think he’s having a good time here, he wants to be part of the team, but he’s scored three goals and the last two, especially the last, were vital.
“You could tell from his delight that he was delighted with the team. He’s a young lad and I’d love to keep him here and we’ll have some big talks with Arsenal. ‘
Willock has made enough of an impression in the North in the Premier League to make Mikel Arteta think: was he right to have him out on loan?
Arsenal have, somewhat unusually, fought for Premier League goals all season and their faltering attack is one of the main reasons they languish in ninth place.
The Gunners certainly haven’t fired on all cylinders this season, scoring just 44 times in 32 Premier League games. Eight teams have netted more.
But while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have at times been criticized for their slump in front of goal, perhaps even more worrying for Arteta is the lack of a cutting edge from behind the front line.
The number of goals scored in midfield is alarming for Arteta and Arsenal.
Arsenal’s central midfielders Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Dani Ceballos and Mohamed Elneny have only one goal between them in the Premier League this season.
Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos (left) failed to score goals from midfield
Mohamed Elneny continues to toil in midfield for Arsenal, which has endured a scorching season
And that came from a special free kick from Xhaka in the crucial 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Boxing Day in the Emirates.
Take that goal out of the equation and the quartet didn’t score any goals from open play in the Premier League, which is simply not good enough.
You look back to the glory days under Arsene Wenger, and his midfield would always come in with crucial goals – with players like Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Cesc Fabregas leading the show.
Except for Partey, who says he should get some leeway due to his injury situation and training period, Arsenal has a lack of legs in midfield.
Xhaka’s job at Arsenal is to help dictate the pace of the game and interrupt play alongside Partey, when it is sometimes very difficult to see what Ceballos and Elneny actually have to offer.
The pair pose little threat from a goal-scoring point of view, while not protecting the defense.
While Willock is still questioned at the Emirates, however, he is giving Arsenal something different, and with experience he will only improve.
For many Arsenal fans, there is a glimpse of Aaron Ramsey in Willock – someone who knows exactly where to be in the penalty area at the right time to grab an inviting cross or pass.
Thomas Partey (left) was startled by injuries during his short time with Arsenal
Take, for example, his goal against Tottenham a few weekends ago and he was in the right place at the right time.
After a cross from Matt Ritchie across the left, Willock could be seen sprinting into the penalty area in anticipation of the knockdown.
Joelinton headed it back towards goal on Miguel Almiron whose header broke right into the path of the oncoming Willock, who had the easy task of punching past Hugo Lloris for Newcastle’s equalizer.
And against the Hammers last weekend, Willock again saw the possibility of Ritchie’s cross from the left.
This time, Willock was right on the receiving end of the pitch and powerfully passed Lukasz Fabianski, who was unable to keep the ball out completely.
Those two goals perfectly show what Willock is capable of and what he can offer Arsenal in the long term.
Ramsey came up with some of Arsenal’s most vital goals in their recent history thanks to his spatial awareness and clever moves, and there remains hope that Willock can provide this in the future.
Willock played a starring role in Arsenal’s group stage campaign in the Europa League thanks to his midfield engine. But there was one caveat: the level of opposition.
It is not yet clear what the future holds for Willock under Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta (right)
Every Arsenal player is made to look good by their recent Europa League group stage opponents – consisting of Molde, Rapid Wien and Dundalk.
Willock impressed enough during the Europa League, but when he got the chance to show his stuff on the main stage (the Premier League), he struggled to convince.
The midfielder’s calm on the ball and the pressure-based decision-making against the best of the league sometimes let him down, which is the main reason why Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have come on the scene, but he hasn’t.
So among Arsenal supporters, the jury remains out on the youngster.
The potential is certainly there, and the fact that he offers something different – a more direct style of play – is exciting Arsenal fans.
However, Willock currently lacks the maturity and composure needed to make it to Arsenal under Arteta.
Willock is earning more time at Arsenal to prove he has what it takes, but if Arteta can secure a permanent deal for Martin Odegaard and find more offensive threat from midfield, his North London career may be over.
But what would be Arsenal’s loss is Newcastle’s gain. And now that the Magpies find targets that are hard to achieve, Willock may just be the man to fuel their toothless attack.