Joe Willock | In my own words

Joe Willock

I don't really like getting shrugged off the ball. I don't like losing. Ever.

That's why I reacted the way I did in that clip that was doing the rounds on social media. I lost the ball against Newcastle, got a bit angry and I tried to retaliate in the right way.

Growing up, I've always tried to have that mindset, where if something happens you don't hide from it. You try to come back harder and stronger. That's always been my mindset in everything I've ever done. And it's helped me win the ball back so many times, too.

That mentality has stayed the same but the Joe Willock now has changed so much from the one who made his Premier League debut at Newcastle a year ago. I'm older in my my mind and body, and I feel so much more confident. I've learned so much over the last 12 months and it's been a big journey for me with many ups and downs, but I feel like I’ve matured a lot.

It helps that Unai Emery has come in and shown belief in me, too. He's teaching me a lot, and there are so many other factors that have gone into making sure that I'm more prepared and feel better when I'm on the pitch. 

The head coach values hard work and for me, that's the most important thing as well. Where I'm from, we didn't have a lot when we were growing up. Hard work is the only thing that allowed us to get us out of it and give us the privilege we have now. Hard work was essential back then, so every day I try to keep that in my head so that I can just keep on going again. I never want to lose that work ethic on or off the pitch. 

A young Joe signs his first contract for Arsenal

It's no exaggeration to say that my dad gave me that type of work rate. He's a big part of who I am today, and is the reason why me and my brothers have got to where we are today. He's shown us how to do a lot of things, but his main thing was for us to work hard at everything we did. 

After we'd finished training during the day at Hale End, we used to go to the park for hours until it got dark, and he'd be teaching us different skills. There'd be times where he'd boot the ball up into the air and we'd take turns trying to bring it down, and then other times we'd put him in goal and play a knock-out tournament between us. He's put in a lot of hard work for us, blood, sweat and tears, and he's always supported me.

If it wasn't my dad, it was my two older brothers. If I ever didn't want to go to training for whatever silly reason, I'd have to answer to one of my brothers and then if it ever got to my dad... well I'd make sure I was ready for training before that! He's always been there to make sure I'm pushing myself to be the best person and player I can be. He would say, 'Even if you're tired, you've still got to show what you can do because you can improve every day'. 

That was the same going all the way back to when I first joined this club. I started here when I was four-and-a-half and playing with the older boys because I was too young and there was nobody in my age group at the academy. Because my brothers played for the club, they let me hang around at training. Then when I was nine, I was able to sign and then I came through the ranks here. I've been all over the world with Arsenal and have tried to improve myself year by year, step by step. Now I'm at this point today and I'm still trying to improve to get better. 

Joe with his older brothers, Matty (middle, now at Gillingham) and Chris (now at West Brom on loan from Benfica)

I've got so many great memories of my time with the academy sides, but a highlight has to be winning the Premier League 2 title. That was a good feeling when we won it, but we all knew that it was only a temporary feeling and that we all wanted to push on like we have now. We all knew there was loads of work to do in order for us to get to the first team, and ultimately win the big titles. 

There's also all the times where I would go away with the under-10s and under-11s for the weekend. Those are some of the best memories in my head because those days were brilliant; you were just travelling around the world with all your mates, some players who I'm still playing with to this day. 

Players like Eddie and Reiss, two of my closest friends, we all used to travel around together. We were all born in 1999 and if you were born in 1998 or 1999, you used to go on tour together. There's also Charlie Gilmour, who's left now, Tolaji Bola, who's still at the club... we've all shared the journey, shared the memories, so it's nice to look back on it all because it's all gone by so quickly. 

Joe with his under-13s team-mates during the 2010/11 season

I'm only 20 but there are already so many first-team moments that I'm proud to reflect on. The one which probably stands out the most is Blackpool away, when I scored two goals and then looked up and saw my mum and dad in the crowd. It was my mum's birthday, so that was probably my favourite memory and happiest moment so far. 

Some people have asked, 'How did you know where your parents were in the crowd?' and I just tell them that I heard a whistle. You see, when I was growing up my dad always had a certain whistle that he would use when he was trying to get our attention - so now, even if he's far away in the crowd, I can hear him. It's a bit weird but it's like this instinct - he's almost trained us to always be able to hear this whistle! So I heard the whistle, looked up and then saw him and my mum... it was just a really great moment that we could share together. 

Another big moment for me was the Europa League final in Baku. Obviously it's a bittersweet memory because of the defeat, but I'm holding on to the moment where the head coach called me over to come on. Remember that never-say-die attitude I was telling you about? Well I had it that evening, so when I came on I just wanted to try to give the team a boost so we could get back into the game. That was the main focus, to try to help the team get something out of the game. 

In the end, it didn't finish the way we wanted it to, but it was still a good moment for me to come on in a final and experience that level of competition. I was proud of myself for those 15 minutes but at the time you don't think about it like that, you're upset and devastated for the boys. We lost a big opportunity when we knew we could have won with the talent in our squad... it was a big deal and it was really upsetting.

After I had a couple of days to reflect on the result, I did think about my performance and I watched it over again. I was proud of myself because I was able to show what I could do on such a big stage. I knew it was only 15 minutes, and that I needed to continue to do that throughout the summer in pre-season. I felt I did that. 

Playing against such big teams in pre-season is a really big deal for me. I always take it 100 per cent seriously because I want to show what I can do against the best players in the world. For me, the best experience was playing against a Ballon d'Or winner, Luka Modric. He's a central midfielder who I've always looked up to. I've watched him throughout my career. 

Joe goes head to head with his childhood idol, Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric

When I was younger and starting up, I was always watching how he used to caress the ball and play people in, the way he used to move past players... it's amazing really. It was a huge moment to be in the tunnel and look across to see him. That was big, but I've never feared anyone. Whoever you are, even if you're my idol, I'll go against you with everything I've got. My dad has raised me to never back down from any challenges. To play against him and test my ability against his, it was a big deal for me and that was probably the best moment of pre-season for me. 

When we came back to England, people were starting to ask me whether I'd be playing for the first team this season. They hadn't asked me those sorts of things before so maybe they were starting to think, 'Oh, he can play, he's alright you know'. But I don't really focus on that, I only look at what I need to do. I always have goals in my head and I need to reach them for me to be happy, for me to be able to sleep at night. That's what I try to go back to when people are starting to fuss about me. 

I know football's really fickle. One day you're on the up, the next you could be on the way down. I feel like with my strategy in my head, it's the only thing I can go to. Even when I signed the new contract or when people are talking me up, I've still got my dad there to make sure I'm grounded and focusing on what I need to do to progress. 

We had a plan when I was younger and that was to play for the first team regularly and be a big player for Arsenal. That's my dream and I haven't fulfilled it yet. My dad reminds me of that plan and won't let me relax until I've fulfilled it. 

For me to break into the team and help the team win titles would be absolutely amazing. I've worked my whole life for a chance like this, so I'm ready for the challenge.

Joe Willock

Joe Willock

Joe Willock

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