This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Lining up in a midfield against the likes of Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, Arsenal’s 19-year-old starlet Joe Willock was the man who stole the show in the pre-season clash against Real Madrid.
The teenager looked at ease against his more illustrious counterparts and it was fair to say that he more than held his own in the middle of the park. The England U20 international was energetic, powerful and composed on the ball. Unai Emery essentially put out his strongest possible eleven for the game against Los Blancos, and it was telling that Willock was amongst those names.
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The Arsenal academy product really came to the fore last season under the Spanish manager, and enjoyed some impressive performances for the first-team. His brace against Blackpool in the FA Cup spoke of his abilities to eventually become a goal-scoring midfielder, whilst his substitute appearance in the Europa League final when he came on for Mesut Ozil felt like a huge moment.
The 19-year-old has perhaps been the one teenager on this tour who has really been pushed to the hilt by Emery, who included him against both Madrid and Bayern Munich; the north London side’s two toughest opponents of the International Champions Cup.
Despite the prospect of Dani Ceballos arriving on a season-long loan, Willock has more than proved his worth in pre-season. Whilst as an Arsenal player his astute work on the ball is far from surprising, his tenacity and willingness to run the hard yards to fit his manager’s philosophy of pressing from the front is certainly eye-opening.
In combining those technical skills with a work-rate that has warranted starts against two huge clubs, the youngster is tailor-made to play for Emery, who demands a lot from his troops.
Aaron Ramsey’s departure has left a massive void for the Gunners to fill, but if Willock can continue to grow and progress like he has done under Emery so far, then there is no reason why he cannot be the Welsh superstar’s long-term replacement at the club, and one perfectly suited to the manager’s desires.