Arsenal have a number of reasons to be joyful.
Victory against a top four rival, new additions hitting the ground running and a clearer mould of the 4-3-3 formation are just some causes for Arsenal fans to be giddy.
Prior to Old Trafford, there was a comfortable – routine, if you like – victory over Dundalk. A win that was never going to set the pulses racing given the difference in quality between the two sides, a number of individual performances still warranted praise.
None more so than Joe Willock, who had one of his better games in an Arsenal shirt. A fine example of all his risk taking in possession working towards a cohesive display. An even greater example of what a player he can be when quality truly shines through.
In the current crop of Arsenal midfielders, Willock offers traits that the rest of the pack don’t. We’ve seen glimpses of Thomas Partey‘s ball-carrying ability despite being a more familiar holding midfielder, although it’s the academy graduate who has the willingness and physical stature to make runs from deep into the opposition penalty box. All of which was came to fruition against Dundalk.
Based on Arteta’s most recent comments, we’ll be seeing more of that over the course of the season.
"“I told my message to Joe. We considered a few options for him but he’s a player I really like. 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 he showed what he can do, to play in those pockets and to make runs into certain areas.”"
There is the admission here that a loan move elsewhere was considered before the season kicked off. Funnily enough, despite rumours swirling about for almost every player in the squad over the summer, the one whose name never cropped up was Willock.
Unai Emery loved using him as a late substitute in Premier League matches, undoubtedly for his tenacity and relentless work-rate. But still, our highest appearance maker last season failed to have much in the way of an impact, barring some decent enough displays in, you guessed it, the Europa League group stages.
For Willock, it all comes down to consistency. That invaluable footballing commodity that becomes increasingly hard to maintain one it’s been troublesomely achieved. It’s the case for the squad just as it is for the individuals, but with Willock having his own niche in the sense of a unique skillset, strong enough displays will make him a shoo-in for Europa League matches even beyond the group stages.
As it stands, that should be his target: a Premier League starting berth is unlikely this term, but if he can continue to be deserving of a place in Europe as we enter the knockout stages (if Arsenal get there), then that will be the best sign of progress so far.