After a protracted transfer saga it seems that Joe Willock is finally set to leave Arsenal.
football.london understands that the Gunners have agreed a deal with Newcastle for the England Under-21 international that will also include a sell on fee.
The news has prompted plenty of dissatisfaction from fans on social media who still feel as though the Hale End graduate had more to offer Mikel Arteta‘s side after an impressive loan spell at St. James’ Park in the second half of last season.
But with time running out in the transfer window, the move could be one of the smartest Arsenal make this summer.
Much of the discontent rages around the fact that Willock offers a goal threat from midfield unmatched by any current member of the Gunners squad.
Breaking down tightly packed defences is still a problem for Arsenal if Sunday’s tepid defeat to Tottenham is anything to go by, and the chaotic element of Willock’s late third man runs is something that can be an antidote to this.
However, it is his all round game that raises some concerns.
When the 21-year-old was used in the first team last season Arteta generally played him in the number 10 position.
While the youngster has all the pressing capabilities that his manager wants from a player in this role, his ability on the ball leave a little to be desired.
His record of 18.43 completed passes per 90 puts him in the lowest possible percentile among Premier League midfielders last season according to fbRef, while an average of 0.74 key passes per game but him in just the 48th.
By way of comparison, Odegaard, who was played in the number 10 role for the most of the second half of last season and remains a transfer target this summer after his return to Real Madrid, ranked in the 94th and 87th tiers for these respective statistics.
It’s this relative lack of ability on the ball that means Willock can’t thrive as one of the deeper players in Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 either.
The Spaniard wants ball progressers in this area, as evidenced by the signing of the exciting Albert Sambi Lokonga this summer, and the England under-21 international ranked in just the 19th percentile for progressive passes per 90 (2.52) last season among Premier League midfielders.
There is also the fee that is causing plenty of consternation.
Reports suggest that Arsenal are set to receive between £20-25 million for Willock but many feel that they could have got more.
Realistically though this probably isn’t the case.
By becoming the youngest ever player to score in seven consecutive matches towards the back end of last season, the 21-year-old undoubtedly added a few pounds to his price tag, but had he remained a bit part player at the Emirates this season, it’s unlikely the Gunners would have got anything near what they are set to get this summer for him.
It is also worth considering that in this COVID-affected market where selling players for a decent fee is particularly difficult – as shown by negotiations for Granit Xhaka and Hector Bellerin this summer – a fee in excess of £20 million is not be sniffed at.
Arsenal have also safeguarded themselves against the possibility that Willock goes on to become a far greater player than anyone at the club expected by including a sell on fee in the deal to ensure they continue to extract even more value from their academy graduate.
It is this system that has sustained the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea over recent seasons as they have acted aggressively in the transfer market.
Last summer the Reds were widely praised for selling Rhian Brewster to Sheffield United for around £24.5 million with a sell on fee included in the deal, while this time around the Blues have also been hailed for securing similar deals in the departures of youngsters Marc Guehi and Fikayo Tomori.
It stands to reason that in doing something akin to this with the Willock deal, Arsenal and Edu should also be in for some commendation.
The transfer window is in full swing and things are beginning to ramp up with Edu and Mikel Arteta’s dealings at the Emirates.
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Looking into a crystal ball it’s easy to visualise a scenario at some point this season where Arsenal have dropped points having failed to break down an opposition deep block, while elsewhere Willock has scored another important goal for Newcastle. That will undoubtedly be frustrating and social media will no doubt reflect this.
But with plenty more to do in the transfer market this summer in terms of signing a back up goalkeeper to Bernd Leno, a new No.10 and possibly a centre forward and a right back, the Gunners have probably made the right choice selling their academy graduate at this time.
They’ve had their fingers burnt letting Hale Enders go too soon in the past, but it seems as though they are not repeating their mistakes this time around.