Rob Holding continues to impress with Arsenal and has thanked manager Arsene Wenger for his show of faith, as he prepares to face Chelsea in Saturday’s FA Cup Final.
Having signed from Bolton last summer for £2m, the 21-year-old has impressed defensively and shown his first-team capabilities in the same vein when given opportunities to do so.
Unfazed when given his UEFA Champions League debut away at Basel before Christmas, it was likely that he’d complete a loan switch in the January transfer window with some Championship sides interested.
However, Wenger was keen to keep him.
“I didn’t leave in January as the boss wanted me around the team. He saw me playing,” Holding explained.
“I just had to listen to him and keep working hard on the things he mentioned. That has spoken for itself over the last few games.
“I got a look in at the start of the season and then some cup games. After that it was just about being on the training pitch, putting the work in and getting another chance. Since I got the chance, I’ve managed to take it and the boss has shown some faith in me to keep me in the team.”
Holding made his first Premier League start since our 3-1 win over Watford during a narrow victory against Middlesbrough, coinciding with Wenger’s formation switch to a 3-4-2-1 system. It took many by surprise but Holding revealed he already had a head-start, having played as part of a three-man defence earlier in his career.
“We had a little play with it at Bolton under Neil Lennon when I first got back into that team,” Holding stated.
“I like playing in a back three, it gets me playing on the ball more and I can get to bring it forward which I like doing. It suits us at the moment. I have no idea if it’s the best system for me.
“I just like playing and when I get out there on the pitch, I just do the best I can in whatever formation we are put in.”
Laurent Koscielny’s suspension, coupled with a knee ligament injury for Gabriel means that Holding is likely to start the final alongside Nacho Monreal and Shkodran Mustafi – having played in every previous round apart from the 5-0 thrashing over Lincoln City in the quarter-finals.
Holding has been heavily praised in recent weeks but realises the demands of Premier League football have forced him to raise his game.
“The hardest thing has been adjusting to the pace of the game,” Holding admitted. “It is a lot faster than what I am used to. The physicality, too. It is something I have got to step up to and match.”
Holding’s display against City earned him plaudits and match statistics reiterate just why. He made two completed tackles, one interception, a blocked shot as well as eight clearances during the 120 minutes at Wembley.
His passing accuracy (77.8%) was the best of Arsenal’s trio whilst he completed four dribbles, only MOTM Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (6) completed more. This once again effectively highlighted how comfortable he is when in possession.
Chelsea will pose various threats and Holding will be hoping to isolate their key men in the final third as Arsenal aim to secure a record-breaking 13th FA Cup trophy.