Producing another assured defensive showing as Arsenal drew 0-0 with Manchester United in the Premier League, right now it’s hard to picture this defence without Rob Holding.
A few months ago it looked like Rob Holding‘s Arsenal career was coming to an end. Now, after another proficient performance, he looks to be a big part of the club’s future off the back of him signing a new long-term contract. Through the course of the season he has assumed the responsibility of being the main focal point in the backline, in turn realising the potential he had when he arrived from Bolton in 2016.
‘I’m sorry he didn’t cost £55m, so he can’t be good’.
Arsene Wenger famously uttered the above shortly after the defender’s debut, with the £2m spent back then looking more like a bargain with each passing week and commanding display.
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Rob Holding has become an indispensable figure in defence for Arsenal
It’s fair to say that since joining Arsenal his career has been very stop and start due to various long term and niggling injuries. This has brought about inconsistencies in his game, but at no point have I thought that Holding is a bad defender.
There have been several dominating performances over the last couple of years which seem to be saved for the big games, however, these are unfairly overshadowed by some moments to forget (let’s not mention the ball-room dancing defending against Aston Villa earlier this season).
This can be due to inexperience and confidence, which is easy to forget as even though Holding has been at Arsenal for nearly five years, he has only just passed 100 appearances in all competitions.
At 25 years old he is still relatively young for a centre-back and is coming into his peak years, so now we could start to see just how good he can become. Mikel Arteta has shown that he has a lot of faith in Holding, as while he has tried out several centre-back pairings with Gabriel, Pablo Mari, David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi, the one common denominator is that they have all been paired with Holding if he has been fit.
Up until recently, he was perceived as a defender who was good, but not quite good enough to be a regular in the defence of a team who wanted to be in the top four places and challenging for the Premier League title. That narrative has flipped on its head, and it’s now ‘who’s going to play at the back with Rob?’. Whether his run as first choice continues when Gabriel fully adapts and William Saliba returns remains to be seen but the current logic is that one of these will be paired with Holding, and not each other in the long-term.
He has been described as an old style English centre-back, not blessed with pace but has a good footballing brain and always finds himself in the right place at the right time. Against Manchester United the ball appeared to gravitate its way to him like a magnet, and he was there clearing every cross in the pressurised environment he thrives in. His attitude also earns praise from by Arteta and he seems to be the ideal professional – the quiet leader, should we say.
His recent performances for Arsenal have led to some saying that he could be an outside bet to take the captaincy once it’s relinquished by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and in my opinion this accolade would be deserved. He also must be giving Gareth Southgate a headache, and surely he must be in contention to be selected for the next international fixtures in March.
Buyako Saka is an indispensable member of this team and his own recent performances have warranted such praise, yet at the other end of the pitch we have someone emerging who is becoming as equally important and undroppable.