The Europa League final against Chelsea is a game that the vast majority of people connected with Arsenal will want to forget about entirely, but for Joe Willock it represented another significant step forward in his career.
Having developed extremely well this season under the guidance of Freddie Ljungberg at U23 level, there was some confusion amongst regular watchers of the youth sides as to why Willock was consistently being overlooked by Unai Emery with regards to first-team action.
Even after an excellent display in the FA Cup against Blackpool, during which he scored a brace, Willock found his opportunities limited.
Towards the end of the campaign, however, the 19-year-old started to become increasingly involved in first-team training sessions and was handed a start against Burnley on the final day of the Premier League season.
Willock seized his opportunity on that occasion and that put him into contention for involvement in the Europa League final.
When the teamsheets were submitted for the clash in Baku, it didn’t initially look as if any of the youngsters who had made the trip would get any playing time.
Willock, though, was brought on for the final 12 minutes as he replaced Mesut Ozil and the youngster played without fear as he made some impressive bursts forward; something we have become accustomed to seeing at U23 level.
Although he should have found the net, it was an encouraging display by Willock and one that indicated that he will receive further opportunities to impress next season.
There have been many calls to play youngsters in the aftermath of the loss to Chelsea, and that is certainly a welcome approach, especially when Arsenal have a host of talented prospects at their disposal at present – Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe are returning from loan, while Willock, Eddie Nketiah, Bukayo Saka and Xavier Amaechi are on the fringes of the first-team, with others behind them.
Some patience is required, however, as it can initially be difficult for some of these youngsters to adapt to playing in a high-pressure environment, especially considering how significant the step up is from U23 to senior football.
The aforementioned youngsters, Willock especially, all deserve chances next season but if they do play there will inevitably be occasions where they make costly mistakes or miss an inviting chance to score.
Perhaps the best solution would be for players like Willock to start some games, be brought on in others and then left out on other occasions, rather than simply being thrown in at the deep end.
As long as they are given time to develop and learn from their mistakes, Arsenal’s youngsters should be given chances to prove their worth.