It’s not what we want or expect, but what we need – It may be Willock and Nelson

Not what you want, but what we need


Yesterday I was reminded about two players at Arsenal that I’d somewhat forgotten about.

I’d fallen into joining much of Arsenal twitter and thinking that Joe Willock was only useful as a versatile runner and presser when other’s legs had fallen off. I feel a bit silly honestly as I’d forgotten two truths. Firstly, that Joe Willock is a rare and precious commodity because although he hasn’t perfected any of his traits yet, he has potential in almost every quality you credit a midfielder for.

joe willock arsenal

Craig Mercer/Sportimage via PA Images

I was reminded that Joe Willock can run with the ball and break lines. That he can time his runs into the box and turn and play forward (becoming a treat in Arsenal midfielders). He can chase and recover, compete physically as he has the perfect frame and show composure in front of goal. Also, a new edition….. a handful of ways of deceiving defenders with body feints and quick feet.

I think it’s also fair to say that he isn’t dominant in any of these areas…. yet. It is also fair therefore to remember that he is 21 years old.

Here’s the thing though. Arsenal have gone back to horseshoe football. It’s blindingly obvious to all that unless Ceballos starts fulfilling his similar rounded potential and/or Partey is trusted to receive the ball in tighter areas, that Arsenal have no choice in my mind. Willock may not be a bigger name, an international player or make us feel a little more insecure when we see the line up, but he looks like exactly what we need.

Reiss Nelson was equally impressive. I’ve been wishing on here for months that he acts in a less submissive fashion and takes the initiative. He did yesterday. A totally different player to watch. It wasn’t his end product as that was shaky. It was his swagger. He ran at the back four over and over. When it didn’t work, he did it again. His change of pace looked electric. I’d forgotten. My general impression was that if he gets a run of games, allowed to fail and not be dropped, then he could quite easily become our most effective winger. That job is up for grabs.


(Thanks To Stu Macfarlane Getty)

So, this weekend when I pick the team in my head to play Utd I’m not going to worry about price tags and names. I’m going to think about what Arsenal need. I think we all agree that we need two things more than any other….. creativity and risk.

I’d play both of them. Nelson, Pepe and Auba with Partey, Saka and Willock. That crew aren’t going to pass the buck if we go 0-1 down.



  • Beyond Nelson and Willock, Pepe may not have shone in the same way but he’s never consistent 0-90. The great hope I felt was in his positioning. He played inside as much as outside and attempted many of his back post crosses, a few shots and his goal was stunning. Just get him inside or don’t play him.


  • I was nervous at midday that we were going to play Gabriel and possibly, Partey. Credit to Arteta for resting them. The Utd game is significantly more important.


  • Did you notice that Willian was back to his sprightly self? I don’t think that this was a coincidence. Nelson’s decision to play with purpose sparked Willian. Either way, I’m glad that Willian seemed interested. His explosiveness over 3 yards gives him the separation I wish others had.


  • It was fascinating to see Balogun. His Arsenal career seems back on track. He moves like a prowling lion waiting for balls behind.
Folarin Balogun

Folarin Balogun

  • What had Arteta done about creativity? I saw direct running with the ball, third man runs and combinations on the top corners of the box.


  • Runarsson was barely involved but he was faultless in what he had to do.
0 Runar-Alex-Runarsson

Er why??


  • So, do we believe in corners or not? We hit near post corners for the CF to flick on. We hit the in-swinger under the keeper and then we do the short corner that leads to general play. This gives me the impression that the coaching staff have looked at stats and found out that the chances of scoring from a corner are less than just having the ball on the wing. Interesting.


  • AMN looked laid back/upset again. I wonder if the plan was for him to get his wish (and mine) and play CM, but it was scuppered when Kolasinac had to play CB moving him to LB.


  • Some say that Eddie can play like Lacazette and vice versa. I say that Eddie is much better and sharper in the box. We need to play to his style when he’s playing. I feel like we don’t adapt. I’d love to know what percentage of his goals are scored inside the 6 yard box.


  • I’ve been thinking about what I’d do about the lack of risk and creativity. I remember when my Olympic Development team had the same issue. The most successful session I ran was a game of Defense vs Attack and the attacking team were not allowed to pass it sideways or backwards. It forced them to play with their hips open and turn. Because they couldn’t pass the problem off they had to also use creativity to retain possession. The instruction when the next game came along was to use your teammates in an emergency not as a first option. We kept this for a few games and it created a team of bolder players who at least tried to be adventurous before they passed the buck.



  • I often wonder how football will change next. I was watching Atalanta vs Ajax on Tuesday. Tactical innovations galore. Double diamonds and dual wingers stood out. Gasperini (Atalanta coach) moved his left winger over to the right to play with the right winger. This left a hole on the left side which was filled by the left back. It caused many problems for Ajax in the second half as Atalanta came back from 0-2 down. Combinations galore. The biggest problem that the modern game will have to respond to is that it will have to evolve frequently as most teams are copying each other. Predictability is creeping in and opponents are capitalizing.



Before Willock and Nelson decided to jump off the page, my main thought and title was ‘Waiting for Perfection.’

We had started, yet again, by lacking creativity and were passing the buck. It seemed like we only wanted to score the perfect goal as part of a multi pass move and dribbling had been chucked in the bin.

After 30 minutes, Arsenal started to dribble and the belief returned.

I’m off now to pray that we don’t wait until the 30th minute or chuck the 2nd half away vs Utd and forget that dribbling exists.

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3 Responses to It’s not what we want or expect, but what we need – It may be Willock and Nelson

  1. earlset October 30, 2020 at 4:01 pm #

    Well Mike, pretty much in agreement with your latest thoughts on last night’s game.I’d always considered Nelson as a better bet for the right wing slot as his speed enables him to get to the line and cross effectively.While Pepe’s goal was a peach his overall performance was the usual chaotic Lack of control.
    Willock was outstanding but because he worked so hard it may preclude him from a start at Old Trafford.I’d like to see him playing alongside Partey.
    Yes integrate Willock and Nelson into the PL squad rather than asking them to audition in makeshift teams.
    Better to go to Old Trafford on the offensive because the current depleted defence is likely to concede.Time for Arteta to take the handbrake off!

  2. allezkev October 31, 2020 at 10:29 am #

    Thanks for another interesting post Mike, I recall someone talking about the psychology of football awhile ago and they said that players take memories with them into games, so for example if you’d been a player that had been part of a team that hadn’t won at a certain ground for years you subconsciously arrive at that stadium with bad memories and it can affect how you play and the result, footballers are, after all, as emotional as the rest of us and all the coaching in the world cannot remove the emotional element from the game.

    It’s why if a team turns up at a ground where they haven’t won a game for many many years and they somehow win then it’s very likely that they’ll win there the following season.

    Arsenal haven’t lost at Old Trafford every single time they have performed there in recent years and there’s been quite a few draws since the 1980’s began but only 5 League wins in 40 years isn’t a great record with our last win being an Adebayor inspired 1-0 in 1996.

    I remember being at OT back in the day and seeing Alan Sunderland score two excellent goals as the Gunners won 2-0, it remains the only Arsenal victory I’ve witnessed at OT other than FA Cup semi finals.
    Since then we’ve had some right old hidings at that place and even after we’d won the league under George Graham when we visited OT the following season at Champions and took the lead through Rocky Rocastle we ended up losing 5-1, it’s a graveyard for Arsenal teams.

    So yeah, as unlikely as it seems I’d definitely have Willock, Nelson and Eddie in the squad and Niles and I’d throw them into the fray if things aren’t going well because I can see Arteta going with the usual suspects in his starting XI.

    It was great to see both Willock and Nelson complete the 90 minutes, both are hungry for 1st team exposure and if the others aren’t doing it then give them a chance.

  3. Blave November 2, 2020 at 3:16 am #

    Agreed, loved Nelson’s positivity and Willock is a guy who is still pretty young and a bit raw but has some quality in there. I think we also need to keep in mind the quality (or lack thereof of the opposition) but I do hope to see them get some more chances. Hopefully they can show well against Molde too. If nothing else it’s putting pressure on the guys ahead of them, but it would really be great to have some guys on the bench who are capable of making a difference offensively.

    I haven’t seen hardly anyone else mention Balogun but I thought his movement looked really predatory and I was really hoping somenone would feed him a throughball so we could have a chance to see his finishing prowess. Overall there were several encouraging performances and it was especially nice to see the offense looking more dynamic than static.

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