It feels like Rob Holding (24) has been at the club longer than Arsene Wenger was, but we are still waiting for him to emerge as the finished article that we thought the club had bought back in 2016. The towering 6ft 2inch center-back was purchased by Arsene Wenger from Bolton Wanderers in a move that largely went under everyone’s radar and left most of us wondering if the Frenchman had found the next Tony Adams.
It was a time of need with both Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista out of action and by the end of the 2016/17 season, Rob Holding had become a regular in the first team. He was gaining valuable experience and in 2017, he featured in Arsenal’s 2-1 victory against Chelsea in a memorable FA Cup final that saw him intimidate and contain Diego Costa for the majority of the 90 minutes.
From that point on, Arsenal fans thought they’d hit the jackpot. It was one of those moments when you think you’ve witnessed a pivotal moment in someone’s career….. well that’s what it felt like but the truth is, Holding simply never showed that level of appetite and energy again.
He did OK in a jittery defence and certainly did better than most, but the man who had been mentioned as a future Arsenal captain didn’t step up to the plate or push to the front of the queue.
Then in 2018, he was hampered by an injury to his left knee which turned out to be a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament that required surgery. This saw him out of the Arsenal team for 248 days and unavailable for 37 matches.
So by way of balance, it may be a little harsh to judge his performances since his return, but the last time I saw him, against Leeds United in the FA Cup, he looked extremely rusty. You could see that he hasn’t been at a decent level for almost a year as the Leeds United players put the ball over his head for fun and ran him into the ground.
At the end of his stint, he looked bedraggled, like a man who had survived a car crash, a hurricane, and an earthquake in just 24 hours. He hardly resembled the player that had Costa in his pocket during the FA Cup final and mocked the Chelsea forward for good measure.
Sympathy to one side, Holding needs to find his form and fast. Arteta is looking for William Saliba’s partner and if Holding doesn’t look good for the part, he may find himself at the bottom of the barrel with lesser players ahead of him.
Rob Holding is good in the air, shows good control and awareness as well as sound positional sense, but he isn’t naturally athletic or quick. That flaw isn’t necessarily something that should hold him back. Tony Adams, Martin Keown and John Terry of Chelsea were hardly Usain Bolt.
He needs to assert himself in the area and perhaps leave the sprinting to others, while he snuffs out the dangers with some good old fashioned, hard defending. Most of all, he has to show up, make himself visible, and find some consistency.
Pablo Mari (26) is tipped to remain at the Emirates after his loan deal ends, which means older and more polished competition. He has to contemplate the possibility that Arteta is said to be looking at one or two other options to bolster the backline. It really is now or never for Rob Holding!