After last season’s mishaps and misfortunes, Arsenal are in dire need of a defensive hero. Luckily, he won’t cost them a penny this summer – as he’s spent the last seven months on the treatment table.
But Rob Holding has what it takes to become the master of the Arsenal backline for the years ahead, and were it not for the injury that ended his (and arguably Arsenal’s) season in December, The Gunners could’ve been looking at both a Champions League spot as well as their new defensive star.
Arsenal were in the midst of a superb unbeaten run last season when Holding ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament following a challenge from Marcus Rashford at Old Trafford, and was set to miss up to nine months of action.
Meanwhile, the decimation to Arsenal’s defensive options over the Christmas period and the subsequent dip in results (also losing to Spurs, drawing at Brighton) left The Gunners missing a key component of a mainstay during their promising run of form in the early days of Unai Emery’s reign.
Arsenal’s defence were further exposed in the winter months – with Liverpool’s 5-1 demolition just after Christmas exploiting the cracks in the Gunners rearguard. Defensively, it is hard to say the side really recovered having won sparingly on the road since then and missing out on a top-four position by a point.
The return of Rob Holding will immediately bolster the Arsenal defence – and not just in terms of numbers. He was arguably Arsene Wenger’s final gem of a find, costing less than £3m from Bolton Wanderers in 2016.
His early promise led Wenger to once apologise for the fact that he ‘didn’t cost £55m’, and with a real highlight being part of a formidable defensive performance that helped Arsenal on their way to the 2017 FA Cup, there is no reason to suggest his value cannot reach those heights one day.
And having played an integral part in Emery’s plans during the opening period of his Arsenal tenure, it seems that the centre-back is highly thought of by the manager, and would command his place in the first team straight away, particularly with fellow defenders Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal said to be facing uncertain futures.
Whether a move for a new defender materialises or not this summer, Arsenal will be blessed with the arrival of a returning stalwart to the backline, regardless.
Holding has often demonstrated his capability to pass the ball out of the defence – perhaps the reason for Emery’s perceived liking towards the 23-year-old – and might just encapsulate in his playing style the future of the Arsenal defence that the manager is trying to mould.
If that turns out to be the case, maybe it is no surprise Arsenal’s defence shipped over 50 goals by the end of the season without Holding’s presence at the back.
Now is an opportunity for Holding to prove his true worth to the club. The promise is there, and the chance to show the Arsenal fans what they have been missing could finally kickstart his Gunners career if he can stay injury-free.
And if he can stave off those fitness issues that have beset his promising progress so far, he can become the defensive rock of Arsenal for years to come.