Joe Willock Doesn’t Need to Make a Statement at Leeds

Arsenal are thin in midfield heading to Leeds on Sunday.

A grueling international break saw injuries galore across Europe, while global travel also increased the risk of contracting COVID-19, with Arsenal feeling the effects in both departments.

Add to that the risk of fatigue and their hopes of returning to winning ways at Leeds in the Premier League are bleaker than initially anticipated.

With Thomas Partey confirmed injured and Mohamed Elneny forced to self-isolate, Mikel Arteta’s first choice midfield pivot will play no part against Marcelo Bielsa’s side.

That leaves Granit Xhaka, Dani Ceballos and Joe Willock as the only recognised central midfielders in the squad, the latter looks set to earn his first inclusion in a top-flight squad this season.

A string of impressive displays in the Europa League successfully overturned the previous reproval that Arsenal fans felt for the Hale End graduate, whose u-turn has catapulted him into public eye and fans’ ideal starting lineups. If and how he’s used at Elland Road will be a topic of conversation long after the final whistle.

Arteta has hinted on more than one occasion that Willock is due his chance. Dedicated training has spilled over onto the pitch, where his skill set has stood out in a sea of similarity. It’s a talented midfield, but the issue of variety has played a damaging role in the Gunners’ stagnant approach play and lack of offensive cutting edge.

Willock adds another dimension to Arsenal. Willing runs from deep and riskier decisions on the ball can go one of two ways, but this term the 21-year-old has refined his timing and technique to such a degree that he’s established himself as an unmissable instrument in Arteta’s orchestra.

Yet to transfer his talent onto the Premier League this season, whatever minutes he accrues at Leeds won’t be season defining. It’s not about making a statement, it’s about showing progression.

As long as Arteta can leave Yorkshire knowing Willock does bring something to the team beyond Europa League group stages, the seeds will be sown that there are other routes to goal for his unimaginative side. He doesn’t have to be flawless, just functional.

Sunday shouldn’t be viewed as make-or-break for Willock. Of course, he needs to make an impression, but showing the manager he has viable options aside from his insistent status quo is the first building block.