NEWCASTLE UNITED’S hopes of re-signing Joe Willock have suffered a major blow, with Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta looking increasingly likely to keep the midfielder at the Emirates next season.

Willock has been heavily involved in the early stages of Arsenal’s pre-season programme, with Arteta having been impressed with the 21-year-old’s approach and attitude since returning to training earlier this month.

Arteta intends to use Willock in the majority of his side’s pre-season matches, and the youngster’s performances will have a major influence over what happens to him next season.

Newcastle boss Steve Bruce has made Willock his number one transfer target after the England Under-21 international enjoyed a hugely-successful loan spell on Tyneside in the second half of last season.

Willock scored in the final seven matches of the season for the Magpies, and Bruce is extremely keen to sign him this summer, whether on a permanent basis or another loan deal.

Newcastle officials have held discussions with their counterparts at the Emirates, and Arteta is well aware of Newcastle’s interest.

At the start of the summer, sources in London were claiming that Arteta was minded to allow Willock to leave, however the situation has appeared to have changed in the last few weeks.

As things stand, Arteta appears to be pencilling Willock back into his plans, a move that will be a major blow to Newcastle if it results in him remaining in North London.

There has been strong interest in Emile Smith-Rowe this summer, and while Arsenal rejected Aston Villa’s initial bid for the midfielder, the uncertainty over his position is understood to be influencing Arteta’s stance on Willock.

Arsenal play Hibernian at Easter Road tonight, before heading to Ibrox on Saturday to face Rangers, with Willock one of 13 senior players to have been named in Arteta’s squad for the two matches along with the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Nicolas Pepe and Thomas Partey.