Making a case for Rob Holding at Arsenal
Rob Holding joined Arsenal from Bolton Wanderers in 2016 amidst much obscurity. Over his two years at the club, the Englishman has rarely put a foot wrong but is still behind a few teammates in the pecking order to start at centre-back.
Holding's standout performance in his Arsenal career was no doubt the FA Cup final against Chelsea when he alongside Per Mertesacker managed to keep the Premier League Champions at bay to win the FA Cup. The defensive situation at Arsenal is curious. Sokratis was signed in the summer and has settled in well, playing with maturity and confidence. Shkodran Mustafi still remains as error-prone and rash as ever, constantly getting his side into trouble with his decision making. Many expected Calum Chambers to become a regular under Emery but oddly he was loaned out to Fulham. Club captain Laurent Koscielny is ageing and is on the road to recovery from an Achilles injury, with no assurance that he can continue playing at the level Arsenal fans are so used to seeing. Therefore, it makes sense to pair Holding alongside Sokratis in defence given his no-nonsense defending and a lack of options otherwise.
It's very important to have two complementary defenders in a centre-back pairing, usually one playing as a stopper and the other as cover. Therein lies the defensive issues that Arsenal currently seem vulnerable to. Both Sokratis and Mustafi are aggressive defenders who look to win the ball higher up the pitch. And when both of them tend to pressure attackers so high up, it leaves space behind to be exploited. Rob Holding is a much more composed defender. His strengths lie in his pace, positioning and physicality. He's also improved his concentration over 90 minutes.
A logical solution for Unai Emery should be to start Holding alongside Sokratis and develop an understanding between the two. Significantly, Holding can also play out from the back, a trait Emery has been emphasizing for his side to implement. Mustafi has shown nothing to warrant his place in the side and it would make far more sense for Arsenal to groom Holding into a reliable starter at the club. Following a very good performance against Watford where his positioning and ability to cover bailed out Mustafi on many occasions, Emery was vocal with his praise for Holding. Hopefully, this proves to be a real confidence boost for the Englishman and he can make himself a regular in defence for the years to come.