Joe Willock could make his first return to Arsenal on Saturday following his move to Newcastle United.
The midfielder was one of three permanent first-team departures overseen by Mikel Arteta and Edu in the summer transfer window and the decision to let him go split the Gunners fanbase.
This was down to the fact that during the second half of last season when on loan with the Magpies, Willock proved that he could thrive in the Premier League as his eye for goal could have been a useful weapon for Arsenal this term.
Week after the week, the 22-year-old served timely reminders to his then-parent club of his quality as he scored in each of the last seven Premier League games – including an equaliser against Liverpool – and won the Player of the Month award for May in the process.
Unsurprisingly, former Newcastle manager Steve Bruce was keen to bring Willock back to Tyneside and got his wish in August when the two clubs finally agreed on a fee of £25million after extensive negotiations.
Having been at Arsenal since the age of five, this departure was always going to be an emotional one for the midfielder.
Yet after penning a classy farewell message, Willock’s intentions for swapping north London for the North East became very clear and the deal made sense for all parties.
“Goodbye @arsenal thank you for making a young boys dream come true. I’ve been at Arsenal for 15 years and I’ve been a fan my whole life,” he wrote on Instagram after completing his move.
“I came to Arsenal at 5 years of age with a dream and love for the club and you gave me the opportunity to fulfil them dreams.
“To all the managers, staff and players I want to say thank you for making me who I am today. This iconic club will always have a special place in my heart but It’s my time to move on and continue to show the world what I can do.
“Arsenal Family thank you for everything.”
But how has Willock fared since leaving Arsenal?
Well, at the moment, it’s looking like Arteta and Edu were vindicated in their decision to cash in on the midfielder as Willock is yet to hit the ground running at St James’ Park this season.
In 11 appearances across all competitions, he hasn’t found the net and the Magpies find themselves bottom of the Premier League table after 12 games played.
There are a few reasons behind Willock’s struggles so far. One factor is that the opposition has been more aware of his late runs into the box, so he isn’t being afforded the same time and space.
Meanwhile, as explained by FBREF, the 22-year-old’s role in the side has slightly changed as he’s won 19 tackles in the Premier League this season – the second-highest total across the entire Newcastle squad.
So instead of making an impact in the attacking third, Willock’s defensive side of his game has shone through – although that’s not exactly what Magpies supporters were expecting from his return.
Another reason for the slow start, as explained by Graeme Jones, is the lack of a pre-season and playing through the pain barrier.
“Joe Willock never had a pre-season here and what you don’t know is that he has been getting an injection in his toe,” the joint Newcastle assistant revealed last month, as per the Chronicle. “Before Watford he got an injury in training and he ended up missing a couple of week’s training.
“Taking an injection and playing, if you’re Lionel Messi and you’re not fit, you’re not going to be able to perform, it doesn’t matter who you are so that was Joe’s situation.
“Joe is going to be a fantastic player for this football club but he’s just building his fitness back up.”