Arsenal may have loaned Joe Willock to Newcastle United in January, but they clearly still have high hopes for him.
Willock has emerged through the Arsenal ranks, and boss Mikel Arteta branded him ‘special’ earlier this season.
The problem for Willock was the competition for places at Arsenal, given that Arteta has a host of other midfielders at his disposal.
Despite three goals and three assists in just five Europa League games, Willock started only two Premier League games this season.
Arteta has allowed the 21-year-old to move out on loan to Newcastle, and with a debut goal against Southampton earlier this month, he could really benefit from this spell.
Willock will want to be a long-term fixture of the first team alongside fellow Hale End prospects Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, but that dream almost died a long time ago.
Ex-Arsenal academy manager Andries Jonker has told TV2 that Willock has issues with timekeeping in the Under-16’s, and when that continued in the Under-18’s, Gunners staff members wanted to get rid of him – and Jonker claims Arsenal wouldn’t have received anything.
Jonker claims he worked with Willock closely to sort out his approach and attitude, and is now so proud to see him developing in the first team at Arsenal.
“Joe Willock is a good example. I remember seeing him play in midfield for the U16 team when I had just joined the club. ‘Oh, what a talented player,’ I thought,” said Jonker. “He had good ball control and a good eye for the game. But at the same time, he had some disciplinary issues. Nothing worse than being late for some meetings, but it felt like he was involved in things all the time.”
“So I moved him up to the U18 team, hoping that his behaviour would get better, but it did not happen at all – ha-ha. It got to a point where all the other members of the support staff thought he should leave the club. I was stubborn and did not agree. We would not have gotten anything for him either if he had left.”
“I decided to train with him on a two-way basis and got him to work with an endurance trainer. We trained at all hours of the day, and he did all kinds of exercises, among other things to improve strength and endurance. He enjoyed these sessions and told me he became a better player. I emphasized that he had to show it to his team, and that I would take care of him if new problems arose. After that he always behaved well, and has had a nice development since I left the club. I get proud when I think about the way he has fought back and the development he has had,” he added.