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Newcastle make progress in deal to sign Joe Willock

Newcastle United v Sheffield United – Premier League – St. James’ Park
(Image credit: Stu Forster)

Newcastle are edging towards an agreement with number one transfer target Joe Willock as they attempt to make a breakthrough ahead of the Premier League kick-off.

The Magpies agreed a fee, understood to be in the region of £25million, with Arsenal over the weekend, but have since been locked in negotiations over the midfielder’s personal terms.

The PA news agency understands the two parties were some distance apart with Willock, who enjoyed a fine loan spell at St James’ Park last season, in a strong bargaining position, but that the gap is narrowing.

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Asked about the situation at his pre-match press conference on Thursday, Gunners boss Mikel Arteta said: “The situation is that he is our player. We had some conversations. It is not only about what we want to do.

“What he has done is a put himself in a strong position where he can choose what his future could look like. That is what we’re trying to define right now.”

Pressed on whether he thinks Willock will be at Arsenal come the end of the transfer window, Arteta said: “I do not know.”

Newcastle head coach Steve Bruce has made little secret of his desire to bring the 21-year-old back to Tyneside.

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But with the season’s opener against West Ham on Sunday fast approaching, they are yet to make a single signing, while the likes of Yoshinori Muto and Florian Lejeune have left the club.

Willock arrived at St James’ on a temporary deal at the end of the winter transfer window as Bruce looked for added firepower from midfield, and he made a stunning impact.

He scored on his debut in a dramatic 3-2 win against Southampton in which Newcastle played the final 18 minutes with nine men, and then found the back of the net seven times in his last seven appearances to help ease the Magpies to top-flight safety.

His exploits understandably won him a place in the affections of Bruce, his team-mates and the Toon Army, and securing his return has been a priority.

Newcastle are locked in talks over personal terms with Arsenal midfielder Joe Willock

Newcastle are locked in talks over personal terms with Arsenal midfielder Joe Willock (Stu Forster/PA)

However, the ongoing takeover saga – owner Mike Ashley appears to be no closer to offloading the club than he was when the Amanda Staveley-led consortium formally withdrew its offer despite a lengthy and costly legal battle – has complicated matters.

Ashley appeared to be unwilling to sanction significant expenditure while the possibility of a sale persisted and another loan move – if Arteta was willing to allow it – seemed the most likely avenue.

Events since – the sportswear magnate’s arbitration case, one of two legal routes he is pursuing, with the Premier League has been delayed until 2022 – have prompted a re-think and a relaxing of the purse strings in a bid to fend off the spectre of another relegation fight.

Bruce will keep his fingers crossed as the process continues and hope the capture of Willock, who does not appear to have a lengthy list of alternative suitors but could choose to remain at the Emirates Stadium, will belatedly kick-start what was always going to be a difficult summer recruitment drive.