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Rob Holding: What could have been or what could be?

By Rob Worthington

During Arsenal’s 22-match unbeaten run last season, Rob Holding was Arsenal’s best defender. Proof for this? The proof is that our consistent victories turned into sporadic victories after the 24-year-old picked up a horrendous ACL injury which proved to be a devastating blow on Unai Emery’s only full season at the club.

He staked his claim on the spot back then due to Sokratis struggling for fitness and his capability to play as a ball-playing centre-half on the left side of defence either in a back 3 or a back 4. From this point onwards up until his injury, Holding was a mainstay in Emery’s defence and many believed he deserved an England call-up. Unfortunately, the injury appears to have somewhat halted the development of the former Bolton man (perhaps inevitably).

Understandably, Holding has looked a shadow of the player he was pre-injury since his return. He has managed just 7 appearances this campaign and he has looked incredibly shaky when he has been given the opportunity. He has been absent from the squad in our last two league games, so questions of how Arteta views the Englishman must begin to be asked.

With Holding still struggling to get back to his best four months after his return against Nottingham Forest in the League Cup, should we be wondering whether he will ever get back to the high standards he hit early last season? Or is this perhaps a slightly premature view and we are underestimating the physical and psychological recovery needed from this sort of injury?

For me, there’s a straightforward answer to this question. Should we be worried? Absolutely not. Statistics suggest that a player takes two years to fully recover from ACL injuries and with our number 16 sustaining his injury in December 2018 at Old Trafford, he still has plenty of time to get back to optimum performance levels. I personally thought a loan spell could’ve done him some good, but due to the lack of options at the back I can understand why the club kept him in January.

The fact Holding is still playing games for the under 23s to gain fitness signifies that he’s a long way from the peak of his powers, but patience is a virtue with this situation. If he can return to his previously high standards at some point in the future, there is no reason why the Englishman could not become the long-term partner for William Saliba in the centre of our defence. It’s now his responsibility to work his way back to his best so he can indicate to his Head Coach that he is capable of fulfilling this role in the Arsenal back four.

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