After initially making his Arsenal bow under Unai Emery in the Europa League tie against FC Vorskla (a game in which he scored), Joe Willock established himself as one of the breakout stars from the academy under the Spaniard’s reign.
Playing in all four positions across the midfield, the 20-year-old featured 23 times under Emery, scoring an impressive seven goals too. Such was the big impression that he made, Willock even came on for Mesut Ozil in the Europa League final against Chelsea at the end of last season.
And his start to the current campaign followed a similar pattern too, further reinforcing his status as one of the young starlets the Gunners could build around. He featured in eight of the nine opening Premier League matches, including starting the first three games. He was very much an Emery ‘favourite’, with the Spanish boss even publicly revealing just how highly he thought of him.
“His really big challenge was that Jack Wilshere left here, Aaron Ramsey left and he had to take that opportunity to be with us. The last months of last year was the moment I spoke with him. ‘For you it is a big challenge in the new season to do differently and really show us you can take their position in this squad’. His progress is a very good example as a positive to many others. If his progression keeps going the way it is going right now, I don’t know when he will stop and how far he can go.”
But following the departure of Emery late last year, there has been a dramatic turnaround in Willock’s influence in the first-team. As new head coach Mikel Arteta has looked to stamp his authority on things, it appears the Gunners prodigy is not considered a vital piece of the jigsaw just yet.
The Englishman has played just 42 minutes of football under Arteta – 29 minutes in three separate Premier League appearances, and 13 minutes in the FA Cup third round clash against Leeds. It’s a hugely disappointing total for a player who had seemingly carved out an integral place in the senior squad under the former manager.
The new Gunners coach has favoured the likes of Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi in the deeper-lying midfield roles, whilt Ozil has rose to prominence once more, playing in every game under Arteta.
When new bosses arrive, there’s always bound to be one major casualty. And unfortunately for Willock, he appears to be that player.