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Arsenal facing tough £20m transfer call over Newcastle survival hero Willock

18:00 GMT+4 01/05/2021
Joe Willock Newcastle Arsenal GFX
The on-loan midfielder has excelled for Steve Bruce's side but could he return to the Emirates next season and make a big impact with the Gunners?

Joe Willock has been on a one-man rescue mission since he made his loan move to Newcastle in January.

The Arsenal midfielder has been a revelation on Tyneside, scoring four goals in 10 games and almost single-handedly ensuring Steve Bruce’s side will live to fight another day in the Premier League .

His goals have earned Newcastle eight points so far and when you consider they go into Sunday’s game against Arsenal sitting nine points above the drop zone, it shows just how vital his contribution has been.

So, it’s no surprise to hear that Bruce is determined to extend his stay beyond the end of the season .

“We'd love to keep him if we can,” said the Newcastle boss. "That is obviously a conversation we have to have with Arsenal, with respect to them. But he is 21 and he ticks all the boxes, as far as I am concerned."

Willock was one of several Arsenal players in desperate need of a move in January. With the Europa League group stage completed, and the Gunners' domestic cup campaigns having ended early, opportunities for the young midfielder were few and far between.

The 21-year-old made 17 appearances this season for Mikel Arteta’s side before making the move to Newcastle on the final day of the January transfer window, with just seven of those coming in the Premier League.

For the past two seasons, he has shown flashes of his quality, especially in front of goal, with his ability to arrive in the box from midfield relatively unmatched within Arteta’s squad. Consistency has always been the issue with Willock, however.

In the Europa League, he has performed exceptionally well against fairly limited opposition, but in the Premier League he often struggled to impress when given a chance.

There was a feeling within Arsenal that he needed some time away from the club, which was why the decision was taken to send him out on loan during the winter window.

Several clubs were interested, but following discussions between the player, Arteta and loan manager Ben Knapper, it was decided that a spell working with Bruce would be most beneficial to the England Under-21s international.

And now, three months on, that decision looks like an inspired one . But is Arteta surprised by the level of impact Willock has had at St James’ Park?

“No, because he has got some great, unique qualities to play in that position,” said the Arsenal boss. “He is a real threat in the opponent's box, physically he can do anything you ask for and has got the right mentality, is good technically and he is English.

“We knew all this but he needed game time, he needed to expose himself away from our environment and we believed as well that Newcastle, Steve and his staff was the right place for him to do that.”

Arteta added: “It was a difficult decision to let him go, but he needed more game-time and needed this type of experience. He has stepped in at big moments for them and scored some crucial goals, so that is really good news because it is great for his development.”

The key issue now is what happens to Willock in the summer when his loan spell comes to an end .

Whatever happens in Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal this coming Thursday night, there will be a need to move players on this summer.

Arteta is desperate to continue revamping his squad, with a new striker, two new full-backs, a midfielder and a playmaker all on his agenda before the start of next season.

And with money tight due to the crippling financial impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, players are going to have to be sold to help fund that rebuild.

Several will move on this summer, with a number of the players currently out on loan deemed surplus to requirements, such as Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Konstantinos Mavropanos.

However, along with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Willock is arguably the most valuable asset Arsenal have out on loan, given his age, the form he has shown since joining Newcastle, and the fact he is English.

“Joe is a player we really like,” said Arteta ahead of Sunday’s game, which Willock will have to sit out due to Premier League rules which stop loan players facing their parent clubs.

“At the end of the season he will come back here and then we will make the decision again for what is best to move forward.”

It is believed that Newcastle could be willing to offer up to £20 million ($28m) to make Willock’s move permanent in the summer , providing they remain in the Premier League.

However, Bruce remains adamant, at least publicly, that nothing has yet been discussed when it comes to money or potential fees.

“I don't know where £20m has come from,” he said. "I think journalists have come up with the price tag.

“The more pressing thing is we have to have a conversation with Arsenal and respect he's an Arsenal player. We don't even know if he's available until we have those conversations with Arsenal.”

Arsenal will not be rushed into a decision when it comes to Willock. While there are several players they would be happy to move on in the summer, he is not one of them.

Arteta remains a fan of the young midfielder and as he stated when the loan move was agreed in January, technical director Edu views him as "an important member of our first-team squad".

But everyone has a price, especially in these turbulent financial times, and given his form for Newcastle, Willock’s price might never be higher, especially as he will have just two years remaining on his contract at the end of the season.

So, should an attractive offer come in for Willock this summer, Arsenal will be left facing a difficult decision when it comes to the future of one of their prized Hale End academy products.