Mikel Arteta is expecting a big reception for Joe Willock when the midfielder returns to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal this weekend.

Joe Willock celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match at Craven Cottage, London. Picture date: Sunday May 23, 2021. Copyright: Adam Davy
Joe Willock celebrates scoring the opening goal during the Premier League match at Craven Cottage, London. Picture date: Sunday, May 23, 2021. Copyright: Adam Davy

Arsenal academy graduate Joe Willock is set to play his first-ever game against the club that brought him up this weekend, returning to the Emirates Stadium with Newcastle United.

Willock was obviously ineligible to face Arsenal during his loan to Newcastle last season, but he’s since completed a permanent transfer to the northeast.

Speaking to the media ahead of the game, Mikel Arteta admitted it will be nice to welcome Willock back, and he’s expecting the former Arsenal man to get a good reception.

“Yeah, I think it will be really nice to have him, we all love and like Joe,” Arteta said.

“Obviously, it was a difficult decision to make to let him go, but I think he’s shown that’s what he needs as well to play the minutes that he’s finding there and find a new challenge.

“Yes (I’ve spoken to him), not this week, but I have done it before and he knows the reception he’s going to get.”

Willock is yet to really get going with Newcastle this season, with no goals or assists from his first 11 games.

Given the context that his team are bottom of the league, perhaps that’s not hugely surprising.

There was also never much chance the 22-year-old was just going to pick up where he left off and score in another seven consecutive games.

It would be typical if he chose his return to the Emirates Stadium to bag his first goal since the permanent deal with his new club.

Before that, you’d definitely expect the Arsenal fans to give Willock a warm welcome. There was no ill-feeling between the two parties when Willock left, and you sense he’s still a Gunner at heart.

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 29: Joe Willock of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Group B stage match between Arsenal FC and Dundalk FC at Emirates Stadium on October 29, 2020 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND: Joe Willock of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team’s second goal during the UEFA Europa League Group B stage match between Arsenal FC and Dundalk FC at Emirates Stadium on October 29, 2020. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Arsenal is pretty much all Willock has ever known. That definitely came across in his farewell message to the club on Instagram.

“Goodbye, Arsenal, thank you for making a young boy’s dream come true,” Willock said. “I’ve been at Arsenal for 15 years and I’ve been a fan my whole life.

“I came to Arsenal at 5 years of age with a dream and love for the club and you gave me the opportunity to fulfil them dreams. To all the managers, staff and players I want to say thank you for making me who I am today.

“This iconic club will always have a special place in my heart but it’s my time to move on and continue to show the world what I can do. Arsenal Family, thank you for everything.”

After Arsenal posted a thank you message to the young midfielder on their own Instagram page, Willock responded: “Thank you for the best 15 years of my life”.

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Arsenal fan since a young age, now a season ticket holder who enjoys writing, tweeting and making videos about the Gunners.