Joe Willock has left the club for Newcastle United in a deal reported to be worth £25m, Arsenal also have a sell-on clause inserted into the player’s contract.
Willock spent six months of last season on loan with Newcastle, where he scored a stunning 8 goals in 14 matches for Steve Bruce’s side.
Willock has been at Arsenal since he was 4-years-old, taking part in regular training with the older players and eventually breaking through into the first-team under Arsène Wenger.
The first main source of game time for Willock came under Unai Emery, who gave the talented youngster game time in midfield, specifically in the Europa League, in which Willock scored his first-ever senior goal in a 0-3 away win over Vorskla Poltava.
After signing a new long-term deal with the club, Willock was promoted into the first-team alongside fellow youth players Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson. Willock continued to perform under Emery, with a superb goal against Liverpool in the League Cup and a deflected effort against Eintracht Frankfurt being the standouts.
Under Mikel Arteta, game time has been yet more forthcoming, with Willock regularly being brought on to make a difference later in games, eventually scoring his first and only league goal for the club in a 0-2 away win against Southampton, in which Nketiah also scored.
Despite regularly featuring for Arteta’s side in the Europa League last season, even contributing 3 goals in 5 games, Willock found game time less and less easy to come by. Arsenal’s nosedive in form meant that Arteta wasn’t as able to be so profligate with game time.
In the end, a loan solution in January meant that Willock was exposed to more game time and was able to have a lasting impact. Goals against West Ham, Tottenham and Liverpool were crucial in keeping Newcastle up last season and put him at the very top of Steve Bruce’s shopping list this summer.
It seemed unlikely that Arsenal would sell Willock initially. Given the youngster’s incredible performances for Newcastle last season, Arsenal knew that they needed a goalscoring threat from midfield, however, the situation has changed in recent weeks.
Though Willock came very highly-rated to the club by club legend Freddie Ljungberg, who trained Willock in his time at the club, there are still some niggling doubts over the player. A lack of strength means that Willock is easier to knock off the ball than players like Granit Xhaka. Another issue is around the player’s unfortunate penchant to go missing when the deck is stacked against the team; this is likely down to his age and the fact that Willock is still ostensibly learning his trade, however, Arsenal now, more than ever, know that they need to cash in fast.
Arsenal have had their fingers burned in the past by holding onto players and subsequently tanking their value. Alexis Sánchez, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Wojciech Szczęsny and Bacary Sagna have all been players Arsenal have lost out huge values for, however, Willock is hopefully the start of a new future for transfers for the club.
Willock would be the third youth player shifted from the books in recent years, with Alex Iwobi and Krystian Bielik both fetching handsome sums despite their form or lack of playtime. Though £25m is a decent fee, the insertion of a sell-on clause in the player’s contract is a very welcome addition.
It’s a shame to see one of Arsenal’s very own leave the club, however, a fee of that size is nothing to be sneered at and Arsenal will always remember Willock’s contributions.