Who is Joe Willock? The Pogba-like Arsenal ace handed his Premier League debut at Newcastle

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Joe Willock
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The highly-rated midfielder is admired by many at Emirates Stadium and will be hoping to prove himself in the final league games of the season

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is renowned for giving young players the opportunity to shine in the first team and, on Sunday, Joe Willock made his first Premier League start, against Newcastle.

The 18-year-old is another highly-rated academy graduate who was promoted to the senior squad after an impressive pre-season last summer alongside the likes of Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah.

Willock appeared in both Europa League group games against Red Star and BATE Borisov this season, while also making a cameo appearance off the bench against Ostersunds FK in the round of 32.

He found game time difficult to come by after being part of the Arsenal midfield that was over-run in the shock 4-2 by Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup third round in January. The match showcased Arsenal’s vulnerabilities and Willock struggled to get a grip on the game, with the more experienced players also turning in a dismal performance.

However, former Arsenal captain and coach Thierry Henry is also a big fan of Willock's and believes that the English youngster has shown strength of character to reach the first team when many weren’t convinced that he would make it due to his lack of physical presence.

“When I was with the academy he came along at London Colney at around 16 years old,” the Frenchman said on  Sky Sports .

“It’s not easy for him because he has a big brother at Man United (Matty) and another brother also at Arsenal who is now at Benfica (Chris). So, it wasn’t an easy one for him and people were not too sure.

“Although he was still young, as you can see he is still only 18, he was only 16 and he didn’t meet his body yet, if I can say. It was kind of weird; he didn’t have the [puberty] conversation yet!”

The debate over Willock’s lack of physical presence is nothing new, though. The same questions have been asked about Nelson and Nketiah, the two other English talents to have broken into the senior squad this season.

While a bulky frame can help you in the Premier League, it’s worth noting that many of the best players nowadays focused on keeping lean in a bid to increase their pace and power.

Respected and admired for his hard working nature on the training ground, Willock played three times for the under-17s last season and can play across the midfield or in the No.10 role.

Joe Willock

Indeed, while he himself says that he idolises Lionel Messi and believes that his greatest strengths are his dribbling and creativity, he feels the top player he's most similar to is Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba.

Willock is certainly highly rated at the Emirates, having been given a first professional contract with the Gunners in November, with Wenger and his coaching staff in no doubt that he has what it takes to push on to the next level.

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Willock may have spent much of his younger years in the shadow of his siblings and with the likes of Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny all competing for a place in Arsenal’s midfield, a loan spell away from north London could be the best option for Willock next season.

However, these final games of the Premier League season present the perfect opportunity for the youngster to showcase his talents and convince Wenger he is ready for the first team. 

Certainly, his start against Newcastle on Sunday certainly won't be his last.