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What next for Rob Holding?

By Rob Worthington (Senior Writer)

Prior to his devastating ACL injury in late 2018, most thought that Arsène Wenger and his scouting team had found a hidden gem in Rob Holding. The young Englishman had everything you could want from a young modern-day centre-back. Strong aerially, rarely shied out of a tackle, read the game superbly and confident with the ball at his feet. 4 years have passed since he joined Arsenal from Bolton for a meagre £2 million and it’d be fair to say the landscape has changed quite dramatically since then.

In 2016, Holding was signed as a defender for the future. He was just 20 when he joined us and little was expected from former Bury and Bolton defender when he arrived. To be frank, it’s rarely the case when much is expected from a young centre-half. It’s widely accepted that players operating in such a role don’t tend to come into their own until their mid-twenties. So, if all went to plan, Holding would probably be hitting somewhere close to his prime by now.

For those of you who watched Holding during Arsenal’s late 2018 22-game unbeaten run, you’ll know that the Rob Holding we saw at the 19/20 season’s conclusion is far from Rob Holding at his best. During that unbeaten run in 2018, Holding was imperious and he very much turned into Unai Emery’s right hand man.

Then, as is almost inevitable for a young, promising Arsenal player, injury struck. Holding suffered a horrible ACL tear away at Old Trafford which left a then 22-year-old devastated.

In spite of his injury, Holding was well within Unai Emery’s plans for the 19/20 season. The Englishman was named as one of Emery’s infamous ‘five captains’ and all the signs suggested that Holding would be reinstated to the starting XI upon his injury return.

Nonetheless, this is quite simply never the case with an ACL tear. The science behind the injury insinuates it takes up to 2 years to fully recover from the tear which would infer that Holding still has a little while to go until he’s back at his best.

Nevertheless, according to reports from the widely trusted David Ornstein, the Gunners are growing impatient. Holding’s loss of pace and confidence on the ball is said to have worried those at Arsenal and Ornstein has even gone as far to say Arsenal are listening to offers for the 24-year-old. He has suggested that either one of Calum Chambers of Rob Holding will be forced out of the club this Summer if suitable offers come in.

So, is this truly the end of the story for Rob Holding and Arsenal? Will a man who at the beginning of last season looked destined to be a mainstay in the Arsenal defence for years to come be moved on? Unfortunately, it seems more likely than not. Arsenal have a plethora of rather average central defensive options and it seems for Mikel Arteta Holding is one of a few who he’d be open to moving on this Summer.

A key reason for this might be due to Mikel Arteta’s views on the Englishman. Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to have a sit down chat with Arteta about his thoughts on Holding. However, his team selections towards the season’s end suggest Arteta might not be Holding’s biggest fan.

In spite of a man of the match performance away at Southampton, Holding was dropped for the next match. In the FA Cup quater-final away at Bramall Lane, Holding was replaced by David Luiz who’d just served a 3-match-ban. Yes, Arteta preferred to start David Luiz who’d just a few games earlier delivered one of the worst performances of his career away at Man City over Holding.

For the next few matches; Luiz, Mustafi and Kolasinac all started ahead of Holding. Then, the Englishman only regained his starting spot a few weeks later due to a Mustafi injury. Holding was far from a first-choice option for Arteta at the end of the campaign.

Additionally, the recent rumours concerning potential incomings in central defence don’t bode particularly well for Holding. According to numerous credible sources, Gabriel Magalhaes’ proposed move to Arsenal is nearing completion which will force Holding even further down the central-defensive pecking order. Of course, William Saliba will also be available for Arsenal next season and Arteta is said to want an additional centre-half brought in alongside Gabriel. Grim reading for Holding.

So, now I’ve dug a little deeper, it seems plain and obvious. It pains me to say it as I’m a huge fan of Rob Holding. However, it looks as if it’s probable that our number 16 will be departing this Summer. To me, if he does leave, his Arsenal career will always be looked at as ‘what could’ve been…’

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