Tag Archives: joe willock

Did Arsenal make a mistake replacing former prodigy with Albert Sambi Lokonga

His has a tough old time of it since joining Arsenal has Albert Sambi Lokonga.

Is he a 6? Is he an 8? What we do know for sure is he has not exactly sparkled when playing in either position.

And he has come under further pressure due to the form of the man he replaced.

No, not Matteo Guendouzi but Joe Willock.

Willock was one of our own. A Hale End graduate and someone that played 78 games for us before leaving to Newcastle.

The majority of those 78 games were off the bench as he struggled to nail down a position at Arsenal.

A loan deal to Newcastle saw him find his feet, scoring 8 goals in 14 games as he was key to their survival. That led the Geordies to spend £25million on him in 2021.

At the time, every agreed it was a good deal for everyone.

Arsenal got a huge chunk of cash for a bit-part player who many questioned if he had the ability to consistently ply for us. Newcastle got a player who immediately became one of their top 2 or 3 performers. And Willock, then aged 22, would be able to kick on his career with regular football.

In Willock’s place, we signed Albert Sambi Lokonga for £17.2m

Both players born in 1999, Willock just 2 months older. It looked great business for Arsenal.

Lokonga was seemingly more advanced in his career compared to Willock, and Arsenal made around £8m profit across the two deals.

Ironically, Lokonga had played the same amount of games for Anderlecht as Willock did Arsenal (78). But unlike Willock, many of those came from the start rather than off the bench.

Lokonga captained Anderlecht for most of his final season, and his form saw him get a call up to the Belgium national team prior to joining us. Shortly after signing for Arsenal he would win his first (and only) international cap.

He came with the glowing endorsement of former manager Vincent Kompany, who said he reminded him of Yaya Toure.

In the 18 months since, he has stagnated and certainly not got close to being the “new Yaya Toure”.

But is it his fault?

We have seen it often with young players. In and out of the team, continually playing in different positions, it is tough to progress.

And this was infact why Willock left us.

Willock would play defensive midfield one week, then not be seen for 2 or 3 weeks, and then return in attacking midfield. The next game he would be on the bench and come in with 5 minutes to go in an attempt to run down the clock.

It was only with regular football at Newcastle that he kicked on. And I do wonder if their positions were reversed – Lokonga playing regularly at Newcastle and Willock a bit-pry player at Arsenal – would their form and progression be reversed?

When Willock left, Arsenal were not really playing a formation that suited him.

In 2020/21, we mainly played 4231, with 2 defensive midfielders and a “10”. Willock was always naturally an 8.

With us now transitioning to 4141 with 2 8s, you have to think that Willock might have excelled had he stayed at Arsenal.

He would’ve seen more consistent game time covering both Xhaka and Odegaard, and his progression would not have been as stunted as previously.

Unlike many, I am not writing off Lokonga.

There is a player in there and if he gets the consistent game time, he could explode.

He has the pace and power to be a top midfielder. He also has an exceptional range of passing. He just needs that game time and I am not sure whether Arsenal can give him it.

Some might call for him to have a loan deal, but at 23 that chance has probably gone.

With Charlie Patino performing well at Blackpool, and a new defensive midfield recruit to join in January, I wouldn’t be surprised if the club cash in on Lokonga. And it would be equally unsurprising if he kicks on following a departure like Willock did.

Final thought on this piece: It was Willock’s decision to go. He wanted to leave us to kick on his career. He didn’t want to be a bit part player despite us being his boyhood club. And we need to respect that.

Whilst some might now think replacing Willock with Lokonga was a bad move, the Englishman leaving was not our choice. And we would have been wrong to force him to stay against his will.

Hopefully in the second half of the season we see Lokonga play more in his natural 8 position. If he does kick on over the next 6 months he could save us a lot of money when it comes to signing a back up (and eventual replacement) for Xhaka.

But Lokonga v Willock. It’s an interesting debate.

Note: all the weird little Arsenal-incels will jump over Willock and Lokonga as examples of Arteta being unable to develop young players.. Ignoring Saka. And Martinelli. And Saliba. And the fact we have the youngest squad in the league.



Time running out for 3 Hale End products as Arsenal look to secure Europa League qualification

Morning all.

Today we face Molde in the Europa League.

Victory would see The Arsenal move to 12 points and guarantee qualification into the knock-out stages. If Rapid Wien fail to beat Dundalk, we will also secure top spot with 2 games to go.

The Europa League has not seen Mikel Arteta put out a vast number of youngsters that we have seen in previous years.

This is a nod to how much stronger our squad is that our 2nd XI now is, filled with senior internationals, and highlights how many of our top youngsters are no longer really considered youngsters.

We could put out a side containing Kieran Tierney, Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Emile Smith Rowe, Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Martinelli and it would not feel like we have fielded a side of kids, even though every single one is still eligible to play for the U23 side.

It is important to get the balance of progression right. We want to see the likes of Folarin Balogun, Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell get a run out, but we also need to ensure the 2nd string are match sharp.

A couple of the youngsters expected to play are now playing for their future at Arsenal.

Reiss Nelson has not really done it since breaking into the Arsenal first team squad in 2017.

He had a decent loan spell at 1899 Hoffenheim but has failed to kick on.

Some will say “he has not had the game time” but with Nicolas Pepe’s form since his arrival, he would have got his chance if he was showing enough on the training ground.

“But he has spent a lot of time injured” is another defence of the youngster, but that should fall on deaf ears.

There is no point have the talent of Lionel Messi if you have the injury record of Darren Anderton.

Your top players are not only talented but also fairly physically robust. How many small, niggling injuries he has had at such a young age is a worry.

He reminds me a lot of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. That he might be talented but he will never remain fit enough to put together a run of half a dozen games to kick on.

Compare him to the kid a couple of years junior on the other side of the pitch.

Bukayo Saka has forced his way into the team due to his performances, and has stayed fit. He is now a regular for Arsenal and England, and is now levels ahead of Nelson.

Saka shows that if you are good enough, you get your chance. It might just be that Nelson is not good enough, and in the summer we should look to cash in, reinvest, and focus on the next rising star in the academy.

Likewise Eddie Nketiah is at a bit of a crossroads.

Nketiah is a goal poacher, but his problem is a modern striker needs to be able to do more – whether that be creating, holding the ball up or running the channels.

Eddie is 22 at the end of this year. With Gabriel Martinelli returning from injury and Balogun and Nikolaj Moller performing well at U23 level, time might be running out if he does not kick on to the next level.

Arsenal could sell Nketiah and Nelson in the summer, raising close to £40million as sides buy them based on their potential. This could be key funds to be reinvest in senior players, with the likes of Martinelli and Balogun stepping up to replace them.

Joe Willock is another one who might have peaked.

He has performed will in the Europa League in recent years but not taken that form into the Premier League. He is another the club might cash in on next summer, and start focusing on the likes of Azeez and Charlie Patino.

It would be a tough decision to let all 3 youngsters go, but if their developments has levelled out, then they should be moved on. Raising £50m+ in the sales of 3 academy products should be seen as a positive.

Arsenal would have additional funds to spend on superior players, and it frees the path for the next crop of youngsters to get their chance.

Hopefully all 3 put in top performances tonight, we win 6-0, Nketiah hat trick, 2 for Willock and one for Nelson.


Doesn’t score, doesn’t create, can’t defend: What does the Arsenal midfield actually do?

What exactly does the Arsenal midfield do?

One thing they do not do is score goals.

Mesut Ozil (1) and Lucas Torreira (1) are the only midfielders who have contributed a league goal this season.

Dani Ceballos, Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock have all yet to score a league this season.

The problem with Arsenal’s midfield is what else are they actually doing?

Liverpool are running away with the league this season and their midfield contribute little in terms of goals.

Georginio Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson have 3 each, as does Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whilst Fabinho has just one league goal. They are certainly not putting in Frank Lampard of Steven Gerrard type figures.

But there job in the team is not to get forward and score goals.

Jurgen Klopp as a hard working midfield that covers a lot of ground, limiting the opponents chances. They have conceded just 21 goals this season.

A big threat for Liverpool is their full backs.

Trent Alexander-Arnold has 12 in the league this season (2nd most), whilst Andrew Roberston has 7 (9th).

Liverpool use their midfielders to cover the full backs as the bomb forward.

Henderson and Fabinho are often found at right or left back during an attack, whilst Alexander-Arnold is putting in a cross which leads to a goal.

But Arsenal’s midfield does not provide much defensive cover.

Too often this season (and previous seasons) it has been too easy to cut through Arsenal’s midfield, to get at the defence. And when was the last time a midfielder covered his full back when bombing forward? It just does not happen.

So at Arsenal, the midfield does not protect the defence, it also does not score goals.

Barcelona’s peak team that had Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta in it did not provide much cover for the defence, and did not score too many goals.

Between them they average a goal every 13 games for Barcelona.

But what they did is create a lot.

There role in the time was to pass the ball in tight spaces until a gap appeared, which lead to goals for Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, David Villa or Neymar. It did not matter that they did not score many when they created so much.

Take Ozil, Xhaka, Torreira, Ceballos, Guendouzi & Willock as a collective.

In 8217 minutes of football, they have scored 2 goals and assisted 7.

That is a goal or assist every 913 minutes.

With 41 goals conceded in 30 games (8th highest), they are clearly also not providing much defensive cover.

So what exactly does Arsenal’s midfield do?