There was an element of Arsenal’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City last night that went rather unnoticed.
Whilst the club’s supporters celebrated an impressive win, one individual inside Emirates Stadium had an additional reason to be particularly satisfied.
Ordinarily Chris Willock would have featured for Arsenal U21 side against their Aston Villa counterparts yesterday afternoon, but instead he was selected to travel with Arsene Wenger’s squad to the stadium ahead of the game against City.
Willock didn’t make the bench for the fixture, but he was the designated 19th player, and would have been drafted in had there been a late withdrawal.
It was a small, yet rather significant step in the career of a player who has been earmarked for greatness from a very young age.
Succeeding in the long-term at Arsenal will be a very difficult task, even for a player of Willock’s undoubted quality, but the left winger has already, at the age of 17, made some significant strides in his development.
The England youth international featured for the Arsenal first-team in a friendly just weeks after signing scholarship terms and this season has performed tremendously for the club at U21 level, impressing with his ability to retain possession in tight areas.
A sublime dribbler and an astute passer, Willock is also capable of finding the net himself on occasion, as he demonstrated with a fine finish at U21 level against West Ham United last week.
Alex Iwobi and Jeff Reine-Adelaide, who were unused substitutes last night, are currently ahead of him at present in the first-team reckoning, but Willock isn’t far behind.
Wenger recently mentioned the youngster when asked to reveal which youth-team prospects are currently closest to breaking into the senior set-up.
It is a measure of the faith that the club have in Willock that he has seemingly leapfrogged Dan Crowley, a player several months older than him, in the queue for first-team minutes.
Crowley remains an impressive talent but hasn’t really pushed on quite as expected. Willock, all the while, has continued to develop at a tremendous pace and is now much stronger physically than he was previously.
Willock has already sampled first-team life- he featured in the pre-season preparations in Asia- but there is a very real possibility that he could make his competitive debut in the not too distant future.
There is still a very long way for him to go beyond that, with a loan spell probably on the agenda at some point next season, but last night’s events demonstrated that Willock is very close to being rewarded for his efforts.