Steve Bruce will test Arsenal’s apparent resolve to retain Joe Willock in the wake of the 21-year-old loanee’s stunning impact at St James’ Park. Willock has scored six goals in his past six games from midfield and Newcastle United’s manager would ideally like to rebuild his team around him.
“Joe’s done too well,” joked Bruce as he reiterated his own determination to remain in charge, while acknowledging that discussions regarding his future would take place in the coming weeks. “It’s a double-edged sword because of him probably doing too well but let’s see what happens. We’ll see over the summer if we can test their resolve.”
His counterpart, Mikel Arteta, had earlier been asked whether Willock would be an Arsenal player next season and said: “For sure, because he’s got a contract and he’s going to be here.”
Bruce, despite a certain unpopularity with supporters, appears committed to staying put. “From day one I’ve said that I’ll never be everybody’s cup of tea,” said a man who was booed by fans during a lap of appreciation after Wednesday’s 1-0 home win against Sheffield United but has planned a pre-season training camp in Portugal in July.
“Whether it was a minority who booed or not, I’ll let other people judge,” Bruce added. “I understand the frustrations of the winter where we had an awful run. And when people keep being negative about the team and all the rest of it, I have to accept it. It’s a big part and parcel of being a Premier League manager unfortunately. I’m still too early to retire yet, so I will carry on as long as others want me to do that.”
Although Newcastle’s owner, Mike Ashley, has been a big supporter of Bruce, the club’s future is opaque heading towards July when Ashley will learn whether he has won his arbitration case against the Premier League regarding the club’s blocked Saudi Arabian-led takeover. Should the ruling body lose, the buyout would be resurrected with Rafael Benítez expected to be reinstalled as manager.
Bruce continues to plan “three or four signings to add the quality we need”, with Willock top of his shopping list. “Joe’s a smashing lad and he’s really enjoyed it up here,” he said. “To do what he’s done for me at 21 and in a team that was toiling a bit when he arrived in January I’m delighted for him. Joe’s a smashing, smashing lad.
“It’s so refreshing when you hear players say, ‘we don’t want to go to the north-east’, that he’s absolutely loved it. And so has his father.”