For the better part of the last two decades, replacing departures at Arsenal has hardly been straightforward in the transfer market. If anything, internal replacements have been more trusted to fill the boots of their former teammates. From the experimentation of Cesc Fabregas stepping into the mighty shoes of Patrick Vieira to Ashley Cole making way for Gael Clichy, likewise, Gilberto Silva and Matthieu Flamini exiting the club to usher in the emergence of Alexander Song and Denilson, the trend is indisputably apparent.
Roll on to the last season of the current decade (2019/2020) and a similar scenario is already upon us. Aaron Ramsey is sadly no longer on Arsenal’s books and once again such a colossal departure has paved the way for an internal seed to grow and his name is Joe Willock.
When the 19-year-old came on for Mesut Ozil in the final of last season’s Europa League, it was perceived that the situation was borne out of frustration and lack of options in midfield and not many (including me) realized it would have significant bearings in the middle of the park in the following season.
However, the development of Joe has grown leaps and bounds in the last 12 months and after finishing last season under the radar with a decent return of 3 goals in 12 appearances, the young Hale Academy graduate is certainly in the spotlight at the end of his teenage years.
Similarly, the same could be said of Aaron Ramsey, who arrived at the Emirates in a summer where three central midfielders had left the club. He wasn’t thrown at the deep end in his first season and his gradual integration into the side laid a solid foundation for the Welshman to build on in his second season. Indeed, achieving his targets was smooth sailing until Ryan Shawcross got filled with the wrong ideas.
Correspondingly, Joe Willock seems almost at the same stage Ramsey was, about a decade ago – 19, on the back end of a decent breakthrough season and with bags of potential to fill massive shoes.
Like Arsenal’s former no. 8, Willock is showing tactical intelligence beyond his years. He is currently far from becoming the finished article but his awareness in adjusting to space is quite profound. Like he did against Lyon, Barcelona, Newcastle and Burnley, his ability to impact the game from deep or advanced areas gives his game the multidimensional facet of modern football. His best position seems to be in the double pivot but he’s also capable of operating in more advanced areas; a feat which Aaron Ramsey performed expertly. Willock’s ability to beat the press whilst playing out from the back, without holding on to the ball for too long is also a priceless trait for a box to box midfielder. It even gets better as he shows the same direct enthusiasm when it’s his team’s turn to effect the pressing game. We all cherished Aaron Ramsey for this.
Furthermore, what was most cherishing among the exciting attributes of Aaron Ramsey was the incredible engine of the Welshman and Joe Willock’s strides are as durable as you’ll get from a 19-year-old ball carrier. Notably, Ramsey’s legs were more beneficial off the ball, but at this stage of Willock’s development, he has the Intelligent potential to find the near-perfect balance between both. His fitness and athleticism appear to be coming to the fore and the fact that he lasted 90 minutes against a physically imposing Burnley side tells its own story, as Unai Emery could have easily taken him off in place of Man of The Match, Dani Ceballos.
Like Arsenal’s new midfield lynchpin Ceballos, Willock is also a “two-way” player. Not only has he got the ability to play from the back, but his athleticism and drive also enable him to work the channels in the final third. Granted, he doesn’t have the timing of Ramsey just yet and it remains to be seen if that can actually be taught or developed but his brief cameo against Chelsea illustrated why he was able to find the net a couple of times in the 2018/2019 campaign.
Equally, his defensive application still has room for improvement but from what has been observed so far, his willingness to put in a shift and never shy away from his defensive responsibilities is highly valuable for his personal development as well as (for) this current Arsenal side.
Possessing such a strong personality for his age, Willock is certainly striding along the path also familiar to Ramsey a little’s less than 10 years ago. A string of circumstances accelerated the Welshman’s introduction into the first team and he pretty much grabbed that opportunity with both hands. Luckily history always has a way of repeating itself.
Arsenal, unfortunately, had to find a way to adjust to Aaron Ramsey’s departure in the summer and decided to bring in Dani Ceballos. While the highly technically gifted playmaker ticks all the right boxes, the gunners have also done well to internally fill the void left by their former no. 8. In Joe Willock, they have a player with bags of potential who will only get better with the distinct kind of players around him. He’s done it in the F.A Cup as well as in the Europa League and having begun his Premier League adventure in such mature fashion, being gifted with another option to add to Arsenal’s impressive midfield options is unarguably one of the nicest problems to have this season, as the search for the best means of evolution from our Welsh Prince hits full swing ten years after his breakthrough season. With Arsenal also just managing two wins from their opening two Premier League games of the season for the first time in 10 years, it really does fill like 2009 all over again.
Post by Resident Blogger: Awolowo Olumide @KingHenryTheFif
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