Mikel Arteta believes Joe Willock will be at Arsenal next season despite the midfielder hinting his future could lie away from the club following an impressive loan stint with Newcastle.
The 21-year-old joined the Magpies on transfer deadline day and has become a firm favourite on Tyneside, helping to consolidate the club’s position in the Premier League with seven goals, including six in his last six matches.
After scoring in Wednesday’s 1-0 win over rock-bottom Sheffield United, Willock said cryptically he was hopeful that “there’s more to continue in the future” with Newcastle, but Arteta seemed to close the door on the prospect.
Asked whether Willock will still be an Arsenal player next season, the Gunners boss said: “For sure because he’s got a contract and he’s going to be here. That’s for sure.
“He got the responsibility and the task to go to Newcastle to help them go where they want.
“I spoke with their coaching staff and they’re extremely happy because he was a key part of contributing to get the objectives that they had. That’s a real positive for him.
“I’m really happy things have gone so well for him because of the potential he had. I think it was great for him to go away and have a different experience. He has grabbed that opportunity in a really positive and remarkable way.
“He will be back with us, we will have those conversations with him and plan the next few years for him.”
Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce has vowed to test Arsenal’s resolve to hang on to Willock.
Bruce said: “We always said that it was a double-edged sword, and we have to respect that he is Arsenal’s player.
“We’ll see over the summer whether we can test their resolve. Let’s see. As I’ve said many, many times now, I’ve got total respect. Let’s not disrespect Arsenal, he is their player.”
Arteta’s immediate focus is on Sunday’s visit of Brighton to the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal look for a fourth consecutive victory that might help them end what has been a disappointing season in the European spot.
They currently sit ninth but could pip North London rivals Tottenham to seventh, bagging a play-off place in the newly-created Europa Conference League, although Arteta admitted qualifying for UEFA’s third-tier competition falls short of their lofty standards.
Irrespective of where his side finish, Arteta, who will be without the injured Hector Bellerin against the Seagulls, said: “It’s not where we want to be.
“It’s a new competition so I don’t know really well what would happen. First of all, let’s try to finish as high as possible and after we will determine, if we are involved, what is the best way to do it.”
Arsenal agonisingly missed out on reaching the Europa League final after losing to Villarreal but they have responded well to that setback by beating West Brom at home then London rivals Chelsea and Crystal Palace away.
And with Arsenal already boasting more points in the top-flight than last season, Arteta thinks there is reason for optimism, even if progress is not immediately apparent.
Assessing the season, Arteta said: “If you’re saying a step back because we haven’t won a title and it has to be related, we have two more points than last season but it’s nowhere near where we want to be.
“The fact that we haven’t won a title so close to grab because we’re not in the Europa League final makes it really difficult to see more positives but we were knocked out in the last-16 of the Europa League last season.
“We try to give it the best possible go, we came up a little bit short, but this club has to be in Europe. At the end of the day, we are here to win.”