EXCLUSIVE By Pete O’Rourke

Sunderland are hoping to beat a number of rivals to the January loan signing of Arsenal starlet Joe Willock, Football Insider sources understands.

A number of clubs at home and abroad expressed an interest in taking the midfielder on loan in the summer and he is already in big demand when the transfer window reopens in January.

A well-placed source has told Football Insider sources that Sunderland watched Willock in action for Arsenal’s Under-23s last week and are lining up a deal in January as they look to strengthen their squad to aid their push for promotion back to the Championship.

However, they face competition from several Championship and Dutch and French sides for England Under-20 international Willock.

Arsenal are set to weigh up the interest in Willock before deciding whether or not to sanction a loan move, although it is likely they will give the green light to the talented midfielder heading out in January.

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Willock, who broke into the Arsenal first-team last season making 11 appearances in all competitions, is highly-regarded at the Emirates having come through the youth ranks at the club.

The 19-year-old has yet to feature in a game under Unai Emery, but he was on the bench for last week’s League Cup win over Blackpool.

In other north-east giants news, the big guns are in pole position to beat Leeds United to centre-forward signing.