The 19-year-old scored two goals in an impressive performance at the heart of the Gunners midfield in Saturday’s 3-0 FA Cup win at Blackpool
A day after Aaron Ramsey moved closer to the exit door at the Emirates, sparking a spirited debate over Arsenal’s transfer market strategy, the club’s Hale End academy products scored the goals that saw the Gunners through to the fourth round of the FA Cup.
A brace from Joe Willock and Alex Iwobi’s late strike saw the north Londoners beat Blackpool 3-0 at Bloomfield Road, with Unai Emery’s side fielding a mixture of fringe and first team players to ensure victory against the troubled League One side.
Emery said before the game that his priority in all competitions is to win before adding that he will give opportunities to youngsters where possible.
Consequently, the likes of Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Bukayo Sako were all included in the squad to face Blackpool and it was Willock who grabbed his opportunity by the scruff of the neck, scoring two neat goals during an impressive performance in the middle of the park.
“We usually work with young players and give them the opportunity to work with us,” Emery stated beforehand.
“I then give them chances to play but only if we can get the victory. My responsibility is to work with them and here I want to do that.
“But each player is going to earn in his way more or less chances with his performances and his everyday work.”
Willock certainly took his chances at Blackpool, becoming the first Arsenal teenager to score in the FA Cup since Ramsey in 2010.
The symbolism wasn’t lost on anyone, given the Welshman, who came on late in the game, is set to leave the Gunners when his contract expires this summer.
Italian giants Juventus are expected to sign Ramsey on a free transfer, with Arsenal having withdrawn their contract offer for both sporting and financial reasons.
Certainly, those sporting reasons were visible when Willock struck twice in the first half to effectively decide this cup clash in the visitors’ favour.
Indeed, the faith in youngsters and burgeoning talent now on the cusp of Arsenal’s first team is exactly why the club can afford to let a fan favourite like Ramsey go.
The Wales international was looking for £200,000 a week, a wage that the Gunners were simply unwilling to bestow upon an injury-prone midfielder, not when the club has such exciting youngsters operating in the same department.
Willock is 19, the same age as fellow central midfielder Matteo Guendouzi. While the two have taken different paths to the first team – Guendouzi has been a regular starter in the Premier League almost since he arrived from France during the summer, with Willock restricted to cup clashes and Europa League games – there can be no doubting that these are two exciting talents.
And with Arsenal now into the fourth round of the FA Cup, they should, along with their fellow young Gunners, be afforded more opportunities to shine as Emery goes in search of his first piece of silverware as head coach.
The game against Blackpool certainly won’t be the toughest test his squad will face this season, but it provided a chance for the likes of Willock to show why Arsenal are now looking to the future rather than dwelling on the past.
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