A stand-out performance from Joe Willock saw Arsenal ease to an ultimately comfortable 4-1 win over KF Molde on Thursday night.
Despite falling behind to a long-range effort from Matin Ellingsen (which Bernd Leno will feel he could have done better with), the Gunners rallied and their greater quality was apparent as they notched up a glut of goals to take the win.
Mikel Arteta’s men forced two own goals on the night, with Nicolas Pepe and Willock adding the extras, although it was the latter’s drive, movement and persistence that played a much larger part in securing the turnaround.
The manager often talks about handing first-team opportunities to the players ‘who deserve it’ and, after his endeavours against the Norwegians – to add to a decent run out against Dundalk a week earlier – it would be difficult to say Willock doesn’t warrant a more. A lot more.
Opportunities are, of course, hard to come by in a squad as big as ours and with the competition for places were have in certain areas, but the Hale End prospect (as has oft been noted this season) adds something to the squad that not many others do.
He is the heir apparent to Aaron Ramsey, an intelligent midfield operator whose movement and guile can unpick locks, especially the sort of locks we are starting to come up against more frequently in the shape of the low block.
He drifts into space, he can pick a telling pass, he can cross, he can drive with the ball and, crucially, he can score.
That is not to say that Willock is now the finished product, far from it, but the consistency he is beginning to produce is pushing him further away from the odd Thursday night and into the frame for the Premier League squad.
Arteta is preaching patience and process, and Willock is echoing those sentiments, but he must be starting to get growing pains. Bukayo Saka’s rapid rise into the first team squad, coupled with Eddie Nketiah’s regular involvement, is proof that there is a path to the Premier League for those ready to seize it but playing so well and then finding yourself omitted from the next squad must be frustrating.
For now, though, all he can do is continue to play as well as he is, while working on those parts of his game that can be improved. And the encouraging thing is, there is plenty he can still learn to make is all round game better.
I noted in the build-up to the match that winning a place in the first team can sometimes be about good fortune and timing as much as talent, and that yet prove to be the case for Joe. His transition from prospect to stalwart may require an injury or a piece of bad luck for one of those ahead of him, clearing the way for a run of games that really catch the eye. It worked for Hector Bellerin and, to a lesser extent, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, so the precedent is certainly there.
For the moment, though, let’s bask in the reflected glory of a night which saw Willock really announce himself to a fanbase that has sometimes been sceptical of what he can add. Molde aren’t Manchester City, of course, but he can only perform in the games in which he features, and he can’t help but have chipped away at a good portion of his doubters last night.