Six years and a new hairline
Updated: May 4
By Mac Johnson (Deputy Editor)
"It only took you six years and a new hairline," joked Aaron Ramsdale in Sunday's post-match press conference, when he congratulated Rob Holding on scoring his first Premier League goal. Though it's not the centre-back's first goal for Arsenal—he scored against BATE Borisov in a 4-2 Europa League Group Stage win in the 17/18 season, and against Nottingham Forest in the third round of the Carabao Cup in 19/20—this header is a collector's item for Holding.
To start, let's have a quick chat about the goal itself. It's the type of header you'd expect from Virgil Van Dijk: calm, measured, and perfectly redirected into the bottom corner of the net. The corner delivery from Bukayo Saka is good, if relatively average. The header, though it looks easy, is nothing short of brilliant. And for a man who doesn't get many opportunities, it's wonderfully taken, though the surprise on his face did tell a story: he might not have expected it to go so well.
Since arriving at Arsenal in 2016 as a fresh-faced, 20-year-old from Bolton Wanderers, Holdinho was thrown into the fire from the start, as injuries crippled both Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny that season. Making his name as a Chelsea specialist—famous 2017 and 2020 FA Cup wins highlight his record, and he's only lost one match of his 11 appearances against the Blues—his time in the Arsenal first team has been inconsistent under his first three managers, especially under Unai Emery.
However, Arteta has seen something special in Arsenal's third-longest serving player; for reference, only Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka joined the Gunners before Holding, though Hector Bellerin is only on loan at Real Betis. Maybe it's his consistency, or the way he applies himself to training, but when Holding steps on the pitch, you have a bona fide guarantee of what you'll get from him.
Though he may lack the speed and passing ability of Ben White, or the aggression of Gabriel Magalhaes, he brings a steady cool head to proceedings. He's excellent in the air, and fights hard in the trenches—statistically, he ranks above the 90th percentile in times dribbled past (0.25), blocks (2.99), shots blocked (2.08), touches in the penalty area (12.30), clearances (5.90), errors (0.00), and miscontrols (0.08), all per 90 minutes, in comparison to all European defenders. Those stats are even prettier when compared to Premier League defenders.
Last season, Holding made a personal best 39 appearances in all competitions, including 28 starts from 30 league appearances, earning himself a bumper new deal. This season has been slightly more muted, but has a different smell of success for Holding. The 26-year-old has still made 12 league showings from 6 starts, tying his most of any season bar last year, and 18 appearances overall. His role within the squad has been arguably more important than ever before. He has made himself a key element of Arteta's tactical flexibility, earning accolades as a master of the back three, and I don't think there's a better player in the squad at controlling the end of a match.
It took him six years and a hair transplant, but Rob Holding has finally reaped the rewards for his dedication and service to the club with his first goal. He's not the flashiest player, and he will never be a superstar, but in his own, quiet, understated way, he has become very important to the club. In his willingness to step in whenever needed, his ability to replace our star defenders without a massive drop in quality, and his everpresent, radiant smile underneath that lovely new head of hair, he is a model professional.
So hats off to Rob Samuel Holding. He's been one of my favorite players since he joined the club, and I look forward to seeing him grow and develop into truly well-rounded player. And with William Saliba fighting for places next year, this may be one of the rare moments where Holding gets his moment to bask in the sun. Bask away, Rob. You've earned it.