Arsenal has a trusted super-sub in Joe Willock
Although Joe Willock was not a regular starter under Mikel Arteta last season, he certainly earned his trust. He became Arteta’s lively and industrious ‘super-sub’. Traditionally, the term ‘super-sub’ is exclusively reserved for a prolific striker who saves games with late equalizing or winning goals. Javier Hernández and Ole Gunnar Solskjær are names that immediately spring to mind. Such players make palpable contributions with their goals, unlike substitutes who enter the fray merely to fortify a defence. However, Joe Willock made the super-sub role his own towards the end of last season.
With Mikel Arteta, attitude determines altitude. His faith in Joe Willock was apparent from the moment he elected to start the 20-year-old over Mesut Özil away at Manchester City in Arsenal’s Premier League return. That decision was hardly a surprise, yet it spoke volumes as to what Arsenal’s phenom head coach thought about his young midfielder.
Following the restart, Willock – the younger brother of former Arsenal academy product Chris Willock – played important minutes in every league game barring the defeats to Brighton, Tottenham, and Aston Villa.
Joe Willock comes through for Arsenal when it’s needed most
Introduced in the 64th minute at Southampton, he sealed the victory with his first Premier League goal in the game’s final minutes, an alert finish which stemmed from an Arsenal free-kick. His impact from the bench against Wolves was also profound. With 15 minutes to go and his team holding onto a fragile 1-0 lead, Arteta turned to Willock once more. His adventure and drive single-handedly ensured the win.
It was a similar story in the frustrating draw against Leicester City, the baffling 2-1 win over Liverpool, and the FA Cup semi-final triumph over Manchester City. Mikel Arteta consistently turned to Joe Willock at crucial moments. He became Arsenal’s 12th man, often being asked to be both an attacking outlet and a willing workhorse in an unusual right-wing position.
Despite carving this important role for himself, the Englishman is far from the finished article. As is to be expected from a young player, he is inconsistent and frustrating, especially when he starts games. Although he combined well with Nicolas Pépé and Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the dramatic FA Cup quarter-final, he was anonymous in the 3-2 victory over Watford.
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Willock is athletic and direct. Combine those attributes with his industry, eye for goal, and exemplary temperament and it is no surprise that Arteta has such faith in him. A super-sub role may be best for him in the short-term, as he currently lacks the desired composure, consistency, and creativity. Nonetheless, he is a dynamic offensive threat (as evidenced by his statistics on FBREF) who warrants meaningful minutes.
Looking ahead to next season, it will be intriguing to see Willock playing as a No. 8 in the ‘Manchester City 4-3-3’. He will have to compete with Emile Smith Rowe and others (Dani Ceballos, Bukayo Saka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, as well as a possible new arrival) for minutes, but that will not deter the divisive and fearless youngster, who knows that he has the indisputable trust of his head coach.
Joe Willock has all the qualities necessary to become a game-changer from the bench, the only concern is that he will become frustrated with such a role. With that in mind, Mikel Arteta must man-manage Willock carefully.