Arsenal starlet Willock reveals key lesson he learned from Wenger

Joe Willock Arsenal 2019-20Getty Images

Joe Willock has credited legendary former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger for teaching him "to play with freedom".

Willock spent three years on Arsenal's books as a youth player before graduating to the senior squad in 2017, and was handed his full debut in September of the same year.

The 20-year-old has since appeared in 51 games for the Gunners, scoring seven goals, while also earning a place in England's U-21 set-up.

The young playmaker has been a regular in Arsenal's line-up this season, with his latest start coming in a 3-0 defeat against Manchester City on June 17 - which marked the club's first game back following the coronavirus-enforced hiatus.

Willock had to make do with a substitute appearance in Saturday's 2-1 defeat at Brighton, but he will be back in contention for a place in Mikel Arteta's starting XI when the Gunners take in a trip to Southampton on Thursday.

Arteta is the second man to try and pick up the mantle since Wenger's exit in 2018, with Unai Emery only lasting 18 months in the role before being dismissed in November.

Willock recalls picking up vital pearls of wisdom from the Frenchman towards the end of his 22-year reign, as he told talkSPORT: “Growing up, Arsene Wenger was Arsenal. It was all I knew. He was part of the furniture.

"For me to grow up and play under him was a crazy feeling. It was surreal. He’s an amazing man.

“Arsene Wenger was a very laid-back man but when he spoke, everyone listened. He was Arsene Wenger so everyone had to listen.

“He always taught me personally to play with freedom and enjoy myself. That’s one thing I can take from him.”

The Arsenal midfielder went on to reveal that Robert Pires and Thierry Henry were his main idols growing up, and says he has attempted to mix their unique styles into his own game.

Willock said: “I used to love the way that Pires used to caress the ball and how Thierry used to play with so much confidence and personality.

“I try to take a bit out of everything and put that into my game. I used to have posters up in my room. I think my mum might have them at her house.”

Asked which members of the current squad have played a key role in his development at Emirates Stadium, Willock responded: “At Arsenal, we are a very tight-knit team, we all try and help each other.

"If I have to name a few names, I would say David Luiz, [Alexandre] Lacazette and a few of the younger players like Calum Chambers, Granit Xhaka, because they are very vocal and big players in the changing room I sort of gravitated to them more.

"They helped me and always speak to me.”