I have always been a huge champion of our academy products.
After winning trophies, getting to watch someone who has come through your academy, bleeds red and white, making it is the next best thing in football.
I will always have an affinity to kids that come through the system – whether it was Ray Parlour, Jack Wilshere or Bukayo Saka.
But not all kids will make it. In fact the majority will not. And we have to thank them for their time and wish them luck at their new club – and wherever they go I will keep an eye out for them.
We have a few academy products who are finding themselves at a cross roads this summer – Eddie Nketiah, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Joe Willock.
Whilst you will find very little support or justification for us to keep the first two, there is a conversation to be had over Joe Willock.
Willock has taken his loan spell to Newcastle by the rough of the neck and put in match winning performances for them.
Despite his good form, Arsenal should resist turning down an offer over £20million from the Geordies if it comes in.
I am pleased for Willock, he has done fantastic. But that does not mean he is good enough for Arsenal’s long term thinking.
“Where does he play” and “can he fit the system” are the two most important factors.
Is Willock a box to box midfielder or a “10”? That has been a question asked by many throughout his career at Arsenal.
He certainly has the physical attributes to be box to box – he is tall (although he still needs to fill out a bit more) and has an engine on him. But whenever he has played deeper, he seems to get lost.
His passing is the weakest area of his game.
For Newcastle his pass completion ratio is just 73.5%. For Arsenal this season in the Premier League it was 78.2%.
Last season in the Premier League for Arsenal it was 82.8%.
Compare this to Mohamed Elneny (92.7%) and Granit Xhaka (90.1%) and the drop off his huge.
Thomas Partey has been accused of being sloppy on the ball this season, but his completed pass ratio of 86.9% is also superior to Willock’s.
Willock just does not suit playing deeper and needs to be further up the pitch.
That then puts him competing against Emile Smith Rowe.
Arsenal still need creativity and goals in the top end of the pitch.
Smith Rowe is superior to Willock when it comes to creativity – his technic, passing and vision is vastly superior. Whilst Willock is the better goal scorer.
Edu, Mikel Arteta and the recruitment team need to be looking at players that are better than Smith Rowe and Willock. Someone that provides the goals and assists on a more consistent basis – Houssem Aouar remains a target.
That would leave either Willock or Smith Rowe playing second fiddle to the new signing.
So do you go with Willock’s goals? Or Smith Rowe’s creativity? That is where the system is then important.
With regards to the system, Willock with his pace and ability to drift into the box has a game made for counter attacking football.
But Arsenal do not play counter attacking. We do not defend deep and look to hit teams on the break. We try to dominate play and possession.
Therefore the attributes that he has bought to Newcastle will not be as devasting for Arsenal.
Meanwhile Smith Rowe is better suited to playing in those tight areas. Short sharp one touch passes. Operating with not much space.
So if it is a choice between Smith Rowe and Willock as understudy to whoever else we bring in, Smith Rowe is the better option.
That would leave Willock as 3rd choice in the position – and with financial constraints as they are the £20million could be used elsewhere on the pitch than tied up in a fringe squad player.
Willock will go to Newcastle and perform well. He will suit their style of play and their fans will love him.
But for Arsenal to kick on and return next season as a top 4 team, we need to funnel funds into better players. And cashing in on Willock, Maitland-Niles, Nelson and Nketiah raises important funds.