Although it may be easy to overhype young Englishman before they have truly earned their plaudits, Arsenal’s Rob Holding has shown his value in recent performances in which he has shown maturity, solidity and potential.
The 4-1 victory away at Stoke was the Gunners’ first victory at the Potters’ since 2010, and Arsene Wenger’s new look 3-4-2-1 formation played a big part in that.
Alongside captain Laurent Koscielny and German World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi, Holding helped to solidify an Arsenal defence that has conceded far too many goals this season – 40 league goals to be precise. Not to mention the 10 conceded in two games against Bayern Munich.
The club would have had a clean sheet if it wasn’t for Peter Crouch’s handball finish, going unnoticed by everyone except Nacho Monreal.
Holding’s maturity is highlighted by the fact that he has started everywhere across the back three, proving that not only is he competent, he’s very versatile.
He has found himself above the more experienced Gabriel Paulista in the pecking order at the back, and he even remained in favour when Kieran Gibbs returned against Sunderland. Against the Black Cats, Wenger opted to put Gibbs back in the starting 11 at left-back, moving Monreal back into the back three.
The new look shape has given Arsenal a strong back bone, admittedly helped by the improved performances of wing-backs Nacho Monreal and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as well as Swiss central midfielder Granit Xhaka, who has had a largely disappointing first campaign with the Gunners.
Costing Arsenal just £2 million from Bolton Wanderers last year, Holding has also been favoured over Callum Chambers, who is currently on loan at Middlesbrough, despite the fellow Englishman costing £14 million from Southampton the year before.
The two youngsters were thrown in at the deep end against Liverpool at the start of the season as Mustafi, Koscielny and Gabriel were all unavailable, and although Holding did not embarrass himself by any stretch of the imagination, he looks far more composed in a back three.
Losing 4-3 to Liverpool was not the ideal way to start the season, but against a team that loves to attack and score goals, it was always going to be a tough ask, particularly when they attacked in the devastating fashion in which they did for 20 minutes in the second half.
Since then, Holding has found it difficult to get into the side. The partnership of Koscielny and Mustafi has been favoured for the majority of the season, and rightfully so. Mustafi cost the gunners in the region of £35 million and Koscielny has been one of the Premier League’s greatest defenders in recent years.
Holding is clearly developing, though, and it would be great for Arsenal, and for England, if he continued to do so. At just 21 years of age it might be too easy to overhype the defender, but it would be difficult for any pundit to say that he has not earned some credit.
Holding’s impressive form could spell the end of a couple of Arsenal careers, though. It would be unsurprising to see Callum Chambers and Per Mertesacker moving on in the summer, neither of them receiving many opportunities under Wenger in recent times.
However, as Chambers is still so young and is playing regularly for Middlesbrough, Wenger may see him as a future asset. It is difficult to tell at this stage whether Arsenal should cut their losses on that Englishman. Nonetheless, one thing is for sure, Rob Holding will definitely be in an Arsenal shirt for years to come.