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Arsenal’s Willock overcame one leg being shorter than the other to become standout star of talented family

IT was on Christmas Day last year that Joe Willock’s mum unearthed footage of her son’s eerily accurate prediction.

Back in 2002, middle brother Chris was the only one of the three Willock boys to be at Arsenal’s Hale End academy.

And yet, staring back at the mobile phone camera, wearing his brother’s kit, a three-year-old Joe forecast his own incredible rise.

Eldest brother Matty, 23, told SunSport: “Joe was always more confident than anybody else.

“There was this video we were all watching at Christmas. He was three years old and said, ‘I’m going to play for Arsenal’.

“Mum said, ‘How do you know that?’ and he said, ‘Because I’m better than Christopher, I’m better than Matthew, I’m better than Dad and I’m better than you, Mum!’ We were all laughing.”

Joe’s prophecy came true in 2017 when he made his first Arsenal appearance. The 20-year-old midfielder has now broken into Unai Emery’s first team and this week signed a new long-term deal at the club.

All three brothers were once part of the Gunners academy but only Joe remains.

Matty moved to Manchester United in 2012 and is now at Gillingham, while Chris, 21, signed at Benfica in 2017 before joining West Brom on loan this summer.

Despite being the youngest, Joe has emerged as the standout star in a talented family.

'CHARACTER-BUILDING'

The three boys were raised at their humble home on the Priory Court estate in North-East London by mum Sarah, a carer, and dad Charles, who owned a women’s clothes shop.

Money was tight and the Willock boys would talk about their hopes and dreams of becoming professional footballers in the bed they shared together.

Matty said: “We didn’t have much growing up, so we bonded.

“We’d say, ‘If we make it to be footballers, we are going to move from here and all have our own rooms and play in big stadiums’.

“It was character-building. We knew we needed to work hard to get out of that situation.”

Joe and his brothers’ footballing education began in a concrete cage on the rough estate where all the local boys would play.

Charles would take his sons every night. He would go in goal and, afterwards, teach the boys about positional play by drawing tactics on a piece of paper.

It took just a year for all three to be in Arsenal’s academy. Winger Chris was the golden boy at Hale End in the early days and Joe benefited from playing alongside him.

Matty said: “It was good for Joe to have him around. When I used to watch Joe, I used to think he was tenacious.

“Joe has always been strong-minded that even if he was playing a year or two up he didn’t give anything away.”

Such determination was needed when growing problems threatened to derail his career at the age of 17.

Charles would regularly record the boys’ height and one day noticed one of Joe’s legs was longer than the other.

Matty recalled: “Because he was used to being the best and then he was off balance, it threw him a little bit and he started not being himself.

“Joe got in trouble with the coaches, a bit of trouble with my dad because he wasn’t focusing as much as he could.

'SERIOUS AND FOCUSED'

“He was a different person when he went through that stage. He wasn’t happy. He used to say stuff like, ‘I won’t get picked anyway’. He was pessimistic.”

It ended up being a waiting game. Once the two legs levelled out, Joe’s game — and bubbly personality — returned. And having shared the same bed as boys, the brothers shared the same pitch in May 2017.

Joe’s first appearance for Arsenal reserves came from the bench in a game between the Gunners and Matty’s Manchester United.

Matty recalled: “He was nervous, I could tell. He was playing directly against me. I tried to speak to him to calm him.

“He just ignored me, didn’t say anything. You could tell he was serious and focused. But he ended up doing well.”

Joe’s rapid rise continued from there, as he was called up to first-team training by Arsene Wenger and made his debut four months later.

Matty was at the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal’s win over Burnley last month and could not control his joy.

He said: “I’m just so proud, to be honest. He did something good in the game and I stood up and shouted, ‘That’s my brother!’”

Matty and Chris send encouragement and words of caution to their youngest brother via a WhatsApp group called ‘W3’.

Matty said: “We are always messaging him saying we’re proud of him, keep going, keep working hard and don’t get big-headed.

“To be fair, even though he’s in a higher league to me, in the Prem, he listens to me and Chris. He won’t answer back and if we say he’s being lazy he will take it on board.”

Joe’s parents would not allow that, either. While Sarah ensures his diet is right, Charles concentrates on the midfielder’s game and training.

But at a family dinner last month to celebrate Joe and Matty’s birthday, Charles expressed his pride.

Matty explained: “Dad was saying he’s proud of all three of us, not just for the football but how we’ve turned out.

“None of us have let it go to our heads and he’s proud of the sons he’s raised. Sometimes he goes a bit nice like that.”

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