Arsene Wenger’s ‘promising’ claim and Thierry Henry’s praise – Joe Willock’s Premier League debut against Newcastle United

When Joe Willock made his Premier League debut against Newcastle United in April 2018, he became the fourth player born after Arsene Wenger’s first game tasked with making a Premier League appearance for Arsenal. Three years later, the Gunners midfielder would sign on the dotted line as the final signing in Mike Ashley’s Magpies tenure.

Wenger gave Willock his Premier League debut aged just 18, becoming the 56th teenager in Arsenal history to play in the division. The England youth international played 68 minutes, managing 47 touches, 80% passing accuracy and one shot on target, before being replaced by Danny Welbeck.

Asked about his decision to play Willock, Wenger replied: “He’s doing well in training but the real step is in competition. It’s a good opportunity for him and a good chance for me to see if he is ready to play regularly at this level.”

READ MORE: Newcastle have found ‘real talent’ who has already impressed Eddie Howe and first-team stars

After the match, Wenger told the Evening Standard: “He played like a young boy. You see the talent and you also see the lack of experience in certain situations in the game, but overall I think it was promising.

Arsenal fans would see a glimpse of what Willock had to offer, but it was at Newcastle that he really sent a message. The Magpies loanee, then a midfielder from Arsenal, was one of the January window signings in 2020/21.

Willock would send a message to those at the Emirates that he was no longer that “young lad” that Wenger mentioned and was ready for more first-team football. The Magpies loanee scored a remarkable eight goals in 14 appearances last year, equaling the club record for consecutive games scored, set by Alan Shearer.

Newcastle signed the midfielder following that loan spell, and while Willock may have struggled to regain that form, he has been a consistent starter for the Magpies this season. The 22-year-old has signed a six-year contract at St. James’ Park and still has plenty of time to develop his game and improve.

Speaking after his debut against the Magpies, Arsenal legend Thierry Henry praised the Gunners academy graduate. Henry told the Mail: Willock “He’s a good player, good technical ability, he can run. He’s the perfect example of when you don’t give up and push yourself, you can achieve great things. ”

Things may not have worked out at the Emirates to achieve these ‘big things’, but it’s easy to forget how young Willock is compared to those around him. The midfielder already has a wealth of experience and has played in the Europa League, which is the next logical step Newcastle need to aim for in the new owners’ long-term plan.

Consistency will no doubt come as he becomes a more experienced player, but last summer’s only signing may exceed expectations.

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