Arsenal’s midfield is the subject of intense scrutiny, but for Mikel Arteta, he cast a massive vote in Joe Willock’s favor against Watford.
Prior to the announcement of the starting XI’s against Watford, I put a lot of weight in how Mikel Arteta was going to line up Arsenal for the final Premier League match. It felt like a chance to line up the way he really wanted to line up, or the way he’d want to line up moving forward.
Somewhat surprisingly (but maybe not really), Arteta ditched the 3-4-3 altogether in favor of a three-man midfield set that made way for Joe Willock. That was the major change. Everything else he deployed here could have been done in a 3-4-3. He could have started Holding and Luiz, Maitland-Niles and Tierney, the front three he did—could have done it all in the 3-4-3.
But Joe Willock he couldn’t have. Which means that Arteta went out of his way to ensure that Willock got himself a start in the final Premier League match of the season.
That’s more than nothing. It’s a lot more. Without even having watched the match yet (it’s 15 minutes to game time as of writing), I know all I need to know what Arteta is a huge proponent of Willock and his future at the club.
Now, Arteta has used Willock as a No. 10 and in a three-man midfield set before, but there was no indication that he was in any hurry to get back to that place. All signs pointed to us riding out the season with a 3-4-3 and Willock serving as a sort of super-sub.
How much things can change, and how quickly.
Of course, it could also be interpreted as a “last chance” for Willock, or an opportunity to feel this formation out before the FA Cup Final at the weekend. But neither of those seems likely.
Arteta has been high on Willock for a while, just not high enough to go out of his way to force him into a starting XI like he did here. And even though we didn’t have anything to play for other than the joy of relegating Watford, it’s still a massive endorsement of what the future holds for young Willock.
It’s also a big step towards figuring out what the Gunners need to sign this summer, which starts tomorrow. Can Willock be a solution to the problem after all?