STEVE BRUCE has reiterated his desire to sign Joe Willock on a permanent basis, and is ready to start some tough negotiating with the youngster’s parent club, Arsenal.

Newcastle United head to Liverpool this lunchtime, but while the eight-point gap currently separating them from 18th-placed Fulham does not quite guarantee their Premier League survival this season, thoughts are gradually turning to the rebuilding job that is planned for the summer.

Bruce will be targeting two or three key acquisitions in the close season, with retaining Willock currently at the top of his agenda. The Arsenal loanee has made a major impact since moving to Tyneside in January, with his goals against Southampton, Tottenham and West Ham having played a crucial role in keeping Newcastle out of the bottom three.

Signing him permanently will not be an easy task, with Arsenal sure to drive a hard bargain if they decide to cash in on the England Under-21 international. The Gunners are expected to demand at least £20m, but Bruce is ready to start having some detailed discussions with the hierarchy at the Emirates.

“There’s lots of conversations to be had,” said the Newcastle boss. “I think he’s thoroughly enjoyed it, and I certainly think he enjoyed the adulation last week of scoring the goal. That’s now three vital goals he’s got here.

“Why wouldn’t I (want to sign him)? He’s 21 year-old, he’s young, fit, athletic, and he can score a goal. He’s got wonderful pace, and is arguably as quick as anybody we’ve got at the club.

“All his good years are ahead of him, but we have to have a conversation with Arsenal first. It’s a bit disrespectful of me because I’m talking about their player, but the move has certainly helped him, and it’s helped us. If there can be something done, then I’d love to do it.”

Another of Bruce’s key summer priorities will be retaining Allan Saint-Maximin, with the Frenchman’s sparkling form in the last few matches having sparked a fresh round of speculation about his future.

With Saint-Maximin contracted to the summer of 2026, Newcastle are in an extremely strong position when it comes to rebuffing any potential interest, although the ongoing uncertainty over the club’s ownership situation could well prove a factor if Mike Ashley is presented with an opportunity to cash in on any of his most saleable assets.

Having spent most of the season desperately trying to get Saint-Maximin fit, Bruce would be understandably loath to lose the 24-year-old this summer. Instead, his priority is to do all he can to ensure his side’s attacking talisman is available for much of next season than has been the case during the current campaign.

“It’s inevitable (that other teams will be looking at Saint-Maximin),” said Bruce. “But the big thing with Allan is, ‘How can we get him on the pitch?’ He was badly hit by Covid and has only played two full 90 minutes this season. That’s not enough.

“A club like ours in the bottom half, you need your biggest players, and he’s arguably our biggest player. I said the same about Aston Villa with (Jack) Grealish, these big players make a big difference, especially if it’s your creative players at the top end of the pitch. They certainly give you a different dimension. Our aim is to keep Allan fit and available – that’s the big thing going forward.”

Saint-Maximin will feature in Newcastle’s starting line-up at Anfield today, with Joelinton set to be alongside him in the final third. Having struggled for the vast majority of his two seasons on Tyneside, the Brazilian has claimed two goals in his last three matches, a return that has justified Bruce’s decision to keep him in the team.

Bruce has backed Joelinton steadfastly all season, although he continues to urge the 24-year-old to be more ruthless when in and around the 18-yard box.

“He’s had it tough, let’s be brutally honest, and I think a lot of that comes with the price tag, which he didn’t set,” said the Magpies boss. “ He’s young, and he’s had two years in the Premier League now, so I think he’s learned what it is and how difficult it is.

“I think what he’s got try to get into his psyche is that mindset that no matter how you play as a striker, you’re judged on goals. He’s a really good team player, but he has to get that selfish mentality that a striker has.

“The one thing with Jo is that he won’t give up. With everything he’s been through, a lot of people would have chucked the water in, as we say. But he stays with it. He trains every day, works hard for the team and is really popular in the dressing room. I hope that he can get that mindset to score more often. We’ve just seen him score two, and we’ve been waiting for him to do that for a long time.”