Mikel Arteta admits Arsenal considered a few options for Joe Willock in the summer transfer window, but he’s a fan of the midfielder’s unique qualities.
Despite the huge number of players Arsenal sent out on loan from their academy, they held onto a few younger players who might’ve gone out from the first-team. The likes of Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson, and Emile Smith Rowe all ended up staying in North London.
This obviously raises questions when those players don’t end up on the pitch very often. Willock has actually spent the most time on the pitch of the three of them, at 272 minutes. That’s around three games’ worth from the first 12 Arsenal matches of the season.
Arteta admits they thought about the possibility to send Willock out over the summer, but they decided he has a unique role to play with the team.
“We considered a few options for him but he’s a player I really like,” Arteta said. “He has some special qualities that only he has in this squad, and that we have to use.
“I think you could see the last game (against Dundalk) he showed what he can do, to play in those pockets and to make runs into certain areas.
“He’s got the ability to make the box, his physicality and he’s grown in his understanding of the game and areas where he needs to be involved to affect the game. It’s growing all the time.
“I’m really happy with the way he’s evolving, he’s doing everything he can, so the fact he’s not playing more is because of the competition in those areas.”
That’s certainly a big part of the problem. Arsenal only really have two midfield spots available most games, considering the third spot is a hybrid left-wing-back role generally filled by Bukayo Saka or Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
That leaves Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos, Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock, and Emile Smith Rowe to battle it out for two places. Smith Rowe can also feature in the front three, so it’s not quite so pressing for him, but that still leaves five players.
If Willock continues to play like he did against Dundalk, it’s not impossible for him to break in. It’s just not a straightforward task. Only time will tell if it was the right decision for his development to keep him around this season.