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Scouting Report – Joe Willock Arsenal’s best midfielder?


Unai Emery fell under some criticism and question regarding his involvement of youth last season. Emery however last season was reportedly “impressed” by Joe Willock. The 20-year-old Englishmen would go on to feature heavily throughout Arsenal’s preseason games. Showcasing his talents against the likes of Bayern Munchen and Barcelona.

His performances would not go unnoticed as Emery would entrust him with three starts in the first three Premier League games. Even for a trip to Anfield. Willock is seemingly becoming a favourite of the manager who said “I think some players like Willock, he did another step up today.” following his performance against Liverpool.

With a jam-packed midfield selection, is Joe Willock staking his claim as the best of the lot? During this scout report we will use tactical analysis explore his skillset and eventually see where he best fits into a starting eleven.

Finding space and body positioning 

Many upcoming youth midfielders struggle with the movement off the ball and generally finding space. Willock is a sure exception. His movement off-the ball is exceptional as he’s capable of finding space in between the opposition lines. This has helped Arsenal play through lines of pressure and make fluid vertical passing sequences. His body shape when receiving the ball is intelligent, as he doesn’t receive the ball with his back to goal. Instead of positioning his body to where he can see more of the field allowing him to make forward play from where he receives the ball.

His play has particularly helped with Arsenal transitions into the oppositions half. As he keeps the ball moving in a forward motion. Contributing to fluid and fast football. Willock made 16 forward passes vs. Liverpool.

This quality cannot be understated as he’s also able to break pressing schemes. Below are examples from the game vs. Liverpool. Willock was able to find spaces in between the lines of pressure and find holes Liverpool’s pressing scheme. David Luiz was able to use Joe Willock as an outlet to break lines of pressure in this game. Finding him three times in Arsenal’s half.

Willock receives the ball breaking Liverpool’s first line of pressure. Body’s positioned to see the majority of pitch and make a progressive pass.

Willock receiving a pass in space breaking Liverpool’s pressing scheme. Body positioned to immediately carry the ball forward.

Driving the team forward

Willock’s forward-thinking mentality is evident. Nothing screams it more however than when he receives the ball and is given space to run into. The most common theme of his play is how he loves to drive forward with the ball. The academy graduate has averaged 2.0 dribbles per game and succeeded 100% of them. He particularly enjoys driving down the left flank.

Against Newcastle, he was fouled three times. More interestingly all of the fouls were suffered in Newcastle’s own half. Allowing for Arsenal to then settle in possession in opposition territory. This is yet another quality of his game that has helped Arsenal during transitiong into the opposition half.

As before mentioned he likes to carry the ball down the left flank. Cleverly he uses the touchline as an asset. If a player begins to close him down or space he’s running into he will knock the ball off of them. Winning a throw-in for Arsenal rather than turning the ball over. Arsenal have been most vulnerable over the past couple of seasons during defensive transition. Boasting the 10th worst xGA (expected goals against) last season. So this has been a little touch that can be going a long way.

Joe Willock nutmegs Trent Alexander-Arnold sending Arsenal into a counter-attacking situation.

Where does he fit in best?

Depth in the midfield can only be seen as a good thing. Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreria, Matteo Guendouzi, and Dani Ceballos. All quality midfielders who are established, first-team players. So where does Willock fit in? Willock’s skillset is not known for his defensive qualities more-so for his ability on the ball. So through tactics, he would be most likely lineup as a 10 or 8 as he has done.

He’s played as an 8 against Burnley and Liverpool. Below is a heat map showing how he primarily operates deeper.  As we detailed earlier, his ability to find holes in pressing schemes during buildup phases is a big quality of his. His play on the ball during this phase is also a highlight. In a 4-2-3-1 he and his midfield partner are tasked with assisting buildup from the goalkeeper. Willock has an 88% passing accuracy in his own half. He has been a part of some silky moves to play through pressure showcasing his passing quality. For example, below is a sequence where he is in a 2v3 with the goalkeeper. Willock’s cheeky pass sees Arsenal through the first line of pressure despite being at a numerical disadvantage.

Willock silky pass breaks Burnley’s first line of pressure.

The role of a number 8 is very demanding. Even with a defensive minded midfielder playing next to him his defensive intelligence and general play must be top tier competing in the Premier League. He plays with great intensity and energy. His anticipation and reading of the game has shown glimpses of quality. Willock has won 59% of his ground duels which so far is the most out of him, Guendouzi and Xhaka. As he matures and grows so will this aspect of his game. But for a two-way midfielder this is positive data.

So what about being played as a number 10 then? Against Newcastle, he played exactly this role. Similarly to the other two games though he struggled to influence the opposition half. This one more than the others though has he only attempted five passes in the attacking third. At youth level, he scored seven and assisted seven last season. He has also shown glimpses of what he can offer in the final third.

Joe Willock pass at the top of the box creates a shooting opportunity for Dani Ceballos.


Using statistics and analysis in this scout report. We were able to showcase Joe Willock and his skillset. Moving forward Lucas Torreira and Mesut Ozil will be introduced into the team. It will be interesting to see how much faith Unai Emery places in the youngster in the later parts of the season.

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