The sight of Rob Holding back in an Arsenal training top should put a smile on the faces of many a fan – not only because the likeable central defender is making a quicker recovery than expected from a nasty anterior cruciate ligament injury but too because he can be the man to help solidify a disastrous backline, one that was ninth-worst in the Premier League last season – which was worse than Newcastle United, Wolves and Everton who all finished below them in the table.
The 23-year-old has been out of action since rupturing the ACL in his left knee against Manchester United early in the 2018/19 campaign and was ruled out for the season as a result. Arsenal were in a rich vein of form with Holding occupying one of the centre-back spots – in fact, he played in 16 matches before the injury and didn’t lose a single game. In that run he also helped the side keep six clean sheets. That’s the sort of numbers you’d expect from your star £35m signing, Shkodran Mustafi, and leader-turned-tearaway Laurent Koscielny.
Arsenal’s defensive issues have been well-documented over the course of the season and it looks to be rumbling on into pre-season with Mustafi being booed against Colorado Rapids in their 3-0 victory – and he certainly didn’t help his cause putting in a catastrophic showing against Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, allowing Robert Lewandowski to equalise after the Polish international left the 27-year-old for dead to knock in an easy free-header from Serge Gnabry’s cross. The issues are clearly obvious to manager Unai Emery who has been chasing a number of defensive targets this summer, including Celtic left-back Kieran Tierney and young French prospect William Saliba – the latter of which may not officially join his teammates until next year which isn’t helpful at all.
Holding was only beginning to get better and better under the stewardship of the Spaniard but for that to continue it will all hinge on whether or not the player can recover from such a nasty injury. Emery could probably do with an addition or two at centre-back as well as the nurtured return of their £2m man. The Achilles’ heel in Emery’s transfer plans, which will ultimately aid Holding’s return, is the lack of finance available which seems silly in this day and age of inflated transfer fees. The Gunners boss reportedly only has £45m to work with which isn’t enough to improve a defence which leaked 51 goals in the Premier League last term.
Another thing on the young defender’s side is his age, at just 23 he still has many years before he even reaches his peak which is a nice thing to consider as Arsenal’s centre-back department is quite ageing – on top of them being rather calamitous. Koscielny is 33 and wants to return to France anyway, Sokratis is 31 and Mustafi is 27 so the former Bolton star has at least four years on his nearest competitor. It also means he has more than enough time to fully recuperate from that ACL tear. Arsenal should put their faith in Holding long-term and make measures to find his partner as soon as they can.