At the end of last season, Arsenal lost their star midfielder Aaron Ramsey when he joined Juventus on a free after spending 11 years in North London. The Welshman has been one of the most influential midfielders for the Gunners since the departure of Patrick Vieira in 2005. Ramsey brought a unique blend of box-to-box dynamism to the game along with serious attacking flair. He is particularly well-known for his trademark late runs into the box which he converted into goals and assists.
Arsenal will certainly miss Ramsey’s creative output this season as they target Champions League qualification. It’s also widely reported in the media that the club has limited transfer budget after they failed to qualify for the Champions League, which makes the task of replacing him even harder. Though Arsenal got highly-rated Spanish midfielder Dani Ceballos from Real Madrid on a season-long loan, it’s not a permanent solution.
However, there are several promising young midfielders such as Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson looking to establish themselves in the first team. Joe Willock has made a strong impression on Unai Emery with his progress in the last 12-months. The England U-19 international certainly gave Emery something to think about with strong performances in the pre-season tour of the USA. The 19-year-old has taken his extended run in the first team in his stride, impressing both fans and teammates alike.
Born on 20 August 1999, Willock grew up close to Arsenal in Walthamstow, North East London, and came through the club’s Hale End academy. He represented the club in several age groups and was finally promoted to the first team by former manager Arsene Wenger. Willock signed his first professional contract in November 2017 and made his senior debut on 20 September 2017 in the EFL Cup against Doncaster Rovers.
He made his Premier League debut against Newcastle United on 15 April 2018. Willock scored his first senior goal on 29 Nov 2018 in a 3–0 Europa League victory away at Vorskla Poltava. He then scored his first brace in a 3–0 FA Cup victory away at Blackpool on 5 January 2019.
Last season under Unai Emery, Willock appeared against Chelsea in the Europa League final, and more notably in the win over Blackpool in the FA Cup, where he bagged a brace. He also had a stellar season for Arsenal U-23 in Premier League 2, where he scored 6 goals and provided 2 assists in 12 appearances.
As a central-midfielder, Willock blends superior technical ability with a powerful running style and is predominantly known for his offensive movement off the ball and attacking output. A dynamic midfielder, who can spread the ball wide, pop into the final third with his lung-busting runs, and win back possession.
Apart from his energy, tenacity, and work-rate across the pitch, he is also a precise passer and possesses good vision, which enables him to link-up with other players and create chances for teammates, in addition to scoring goals himself.
He fits perfectly in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 system and gives the manager some tactical flexibility. The 19-year-old can play as an attacking midfielder behind the striker or in a deeper central role.
Last season, Arsenal struggled to produce goals from midfield in the later stages when Ramsey was injured. Willock has a keen eye for goal as he has shown in the U-23’s and in his limited first team opportunities. Willock carries the ball well, makes dynamic runs and has the ability to finish off the moves.
The England U-20 international looked really sharp in the pre-season tour of the USA and in the Emirates Cup match against Lyon. Even though he played against world-class opposition, he has never looked out of his depth. Comfortable on the ball, not shying away from the action and unafraid to burst forward, the youngster is brimming with confidence. It will be very interesting to see whether the youngster can turn impressive cameos into consistent performances.