Joe Willock discussed his journey at Arsenal so far including being able to buy his Mum her dream house after signing his first professional contract with the club in an interview with The Beautiful Game Podcast.
The 20 year old joined Arsenal’s academy at the age of four and has spent more than 15 years with the Gunners. He rose up the ranks at Hale End and made his debut for the first team in a League Cup tie against Doncaster Rovers in 2017.
On how he joined the Arsenal academy, he said:
“We lived ten minutes away from Arsenal’s training ground. Everyday my brothers went to train (Chris, Matt) at Arsenal and I’d just sit on the sides and watch. One of the Arsenal scouts came up to my Dad and said ‘Does your younger son play? We might as well get all three of them’. I was just kicking the ball on the side like I always used to do and when my brothers used to go on the pitch I’d cry because I wanted to play so they just let me play when I was four with the older boys because I was so young.”
He talked about how for players in the younger age groups, it was much easier to get a trial at Arsenal. As a boy, he brought one of his best friends to Hale End for a trial and it was granted.
On what he feels for Arsenal:
“Arsenal is a club I’ve played for since I was four and a half so I can remember all the way to the first team. I’ve been at Arsenal more than I’ve been at home. I’ve been so blessed to have been at such a massive club all my life and I know nothing different. I just love the club and want to make the club great again. I feel like I can help to do that. I love the club with so much passion.”
On how he felt when he signed his first professional contract as a member of the first team:
“Signing the contract and knowing that I could get my Mum her dream house and do all the things I always dreamt of doing was a crazy feeling. I can never describe it to anyone because as a young boy that’s all you want to do. When you actually make it and you get into the first team and get that break its crazy.”
The young Englishman was handed his debut by legendary former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. On being asked what it was like to be under his tutelage, he said:
“What a man. When he speaks, everyone listens. He’ll walk into a room and it goes quiet and everyone is looking at him. He’s a legend and a man who had very few words to say but when he said something it was always the right thing to say. Having the opportunity to play under him was crazy. When I was in it I just thought that he was the boss, but when I think about it, it was a crazy opportunity to play under him and have stories to tell about him and memories.”
“He was a brilliant man and coach. He’s taught me a lot and has inspired a massive club in terms of how we play. Wenger was so calm and chilled out about so many different situations. When I have obstacles in my career, I always try to chill out and try to deal with it in the right manner and that’s from Arsene Wenger.”
On Unai Emery, he said he thought the ex Arsenal head coach did well during his time at the club. The players trained very hard under him and went on a good run in the Premier League in his first season. They reached the final of the Europa league. He declined to talk about what went on in the dressing room.
He said Emery didn’t speak a word of English when he first joined the club and so it was hard for him to get his message across initially. Contrary to what a lot of people on the outside believe, Willock does not feel like that affected his time at Arsenal too much. He said he liked him as a man and appreciated all the opportunities provided to him by Emery.
Mikel Arteta took over as Arsenal head coach in December 2019. The Spaniard has steadied the ship at Arsenal and led them to an FA Cup Final. There is a lot of belief among Gooners as well as Arsenal players that the club has the right man in charge. On Arteta’s influence on the culture of the dressing room, Willock said:
“To be fair when he [Arteta] came in, we were a bit sceptical about what he could do. Obviously he’s a very young manager and most of the players that play now, have all played with him. So we were a bit hesitant on how to approach the situation.”
“But we all let him in with open arms and we all thought let’s see what he has to offer. He’s come in and to be honest, he’s been nothing short of amazing really, his detail, the way his man management is with every single player. And we’re just all excited to work with him.”
“I’m learning about the game in ways I’ve never learned them before. He’s an amazing man and I’m not just saying that because he’s my boss.”
The former Manchester City assistant manager has stated that he has certain non-negotiables that he expects from his squad. On being asked about what these non-negotiables were, Willock said the head coach expects the team to play with heart and for each other. He expects a sense of togetherness in the squad. He went on to explain that a player could come to training and have a bad day and play below their usual standards but if the fundamentals are right, the team would be there to back that player up.
On what Arteta has improved about the team defensively so far, Willock said:
“We used to give the opposition gifts and hope. He is cutting out that hope. We cut out that hope and in every challenge and every duel, we are the ones who are stamping our authority. To have that winning mentality, in every different circumstance we have to be on it and that’s what we’ve been working on in training and it is showing on the pitch.”
On what his ideal position on the pitch is:
“I see myself playing on the pitch. I love to play every position and wherever the manager wants me to play, I’m ready. I don’t really mind about the position as long as I get to play and help the team.”
On how important it was for Saka to sign a new deal:
“He was always going to sign. Saka is a wonderful, grounded kid and when he signed the contract he gave a massive statement to say that he wants to play for Arsenal. We’re all happy to have him and to play with him.”
On being asked which player who hasn’t appeared too much for the Gunners would be the next big thing in his opinion, Willock named Jordi Osei-Tutu. He believes Osei-Tutu is a really good player who is likely to make a big impact at the Emirates in the coming months or years. Osei-Tutu spent the season out on loan at German second division side VfL Bochum where he scored five goals and provided three assists in 22 games across all competitions.
On what sort of influence Pierre Emerick Aubameyang has had on the squad:
“Auba is an amazing guy and he’s our captain. He’s also a massive player for us. I don’t know what’s going on with his contract but I love playing with him. Hopefully he will stay at the club so that I can learn from him even more. He looks happy at the club.”
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