It may have only been the FA Cup, but Arsenal brought out the big guns against Sheffield United, and Joe Willock played the part that no one has conclusively played yet.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to the season thus far, Arsenal has been struggling to fill the midfield vacancies. With Matteo Guendouzi suffering from internal problems, Granit Xhaka‘s injuries, Lucas Torreira‘s struggles, and Dani Ceballos‘ inconsistencies, there hasn’t been a lot to build off.
Then there is Joe Willock. Someone who we can’t quite get a beat on, but who has proven time and again to be an incredibly talented young man with a world of potential.
The problem with Willock is a lack of fine-tuning, but against Sheffield United, despite playing a bit of an understated role, Willock settled into the job next to Granit Xhaka and played it convincingly. The first time in quite a while that we’ve seen a conclusive midfield performance from this club.
Doing that against Sheffield United is nothing to shirk at. The Gunners controlled the lion’s share of possession and you can’t do that without midfielders who can do exactly that—control possession.
Xhaka and Willock were a tremendous combo for sitting deep (Xhaka) and driving forward (Willock). This is what we had begun to see from Xhaka and Ceballos earlier in the Arteta reign, but not so much lately.
That’s thanks to Willock.
We know what Xhaka can do. We see it all the time. And we know he can’t do it alone. Which means that the guy sitting there next to him had to have done a job.
It’s not like Willock was a rampaging masterclass. He didn’t drive through opposing players at every turn. He just did his job. He pushed forward when needed, he found the outlets in his wingers, he wasn’t afraid to take chances without putting anything in a huge risk, and he was there to track back and defend. He essentially did what we’re hoping Thomas Partey will do. And no, I’m not comparing the two. I just think that Willock deserves to be noticed for playing the part that hasn’t been played thus far into the season.
Willock came off just after the hour mark and probably won’t be remembered for an outstanding performance, but it was exactly what it needed to be. And while that’s not exciting, it didn’t need to be.