Joe Willock has signed a long-term contract extension with Arsenal, after making huge strides in his young career over the last year.
In April 2018, Willock made his Premier League debut for Arsenal against Newcastle at St. James’ Park, and it’s fair to say things didn’t exactly go to plan.
The Gunners were poor that day, losing 2-1, and Willock was the first player subbed off, earning a fair bit of criticism for his performance.
It was a pivotal moment in the then 18-year-old’s career, which could either see him slip off the radar, or double down and focus on making sure he got another chance to prove his worth.
17 months later, the midfielder has just signed a new contract with Arsenal, reportedly lasting until 2023. The situation couldn’t be more different.
Willock was fantastic all year for the u23s in 2018/19, and he took his first-team opportunities well with three goals in six games. He impressed in pre-season over the summer, before making the starting lineup for the first game of the Premier League campaign.
Rather poetically, that opening fixture was away to Newcastle again. In the same ground where he’d struggled a year earlier, Willock finally started to win over some of his critics.
The academy graduate played similarly well in his next couple of club fixtures and earned his first call-up to the England u21s. Then he signed this new deal with Arsenal, which he claims is “only right in my heart and my mind”.
An incredible amount of work has gone into changing the perceptions of the fans and coaches, earning this opportunity, but Willock thinks he can still do more.
“I need to continue working hard and striving to play at my best,” Willock told Arsenal.
“I feel like I can add more goals to my game and more assists and keep on affecting the game in the best way I can, helping us to win. So yeah, I feel like I can score more goals.”
The 20-year-old says his drive for self-improvement comes largely from his family, with his father instilling in him the importance of never taking your foot off the pedal.
“It’s no exaggeration to say that my dad gave me the type of work-rate that I have,” Willock continued. “He’s a big part of who I am today and is the reason why me and my brothers have got to where we are today.
“He’s shown us how to do a lot of things, but his main thing was for us to work hard at everything we did. He’s always been there to make sure I’m pushing myself to be the best person and player I can be.
“He would say, ‘Even if you’re tired, you’ve still got to show what you can do because you can improve every day’.”
Willock is currently recovering from a slight knock picked up before the game against Tottenham Hotspur, but it’s not expected to affect his potential participation against Watford this weekend.
Congratulations to Joe and his family on the new deal!