Rob Holding emerged as one of Arsenal’s most exciting prospects this season.
To say that the signing of Rob Holding from Bolton Wanderers for a modest £2.5m was underwhelming would be putting it mildly. In yet another summer in which the club was under pressure to spend big, the signing of a 20-year-old fresh off a relegation to League 1 did little to excite fans.
Fast forward to the end of the season and Holding now has his own chant amongst the supporters and is regarded a very good piece of business.
Holding was thrown right into the deep end when a lack of available first team centre backs meant he would make his debut against Liverpool on the opening day of the season. He, along with partner Calum Chambers, endured a torrid afternoon against an inspired Liverpool attack that raced into a 4-1 lead in no time.
He had a much steadier performance in the 0-0 draw away to Leicester the following week, one which Arsene Wenger was full of praise for. In a post-match press conference where the focus was on the lack of Arsenal signings, he said:
“Nobody speaks about the performance of Rob Holding today – he is English, he is 20 years old, you should be happy. But I am sorry he didn’t cost £55m so it cannot be good.”
Holding would play again in the 3-1 win over Watford but he wouldn’t make another league start until April.
For the majority of the season, Holding was limited to appearances in the EFL Cup and FA Cup. Against lower league opposition, the Englishman was composed and confident. The initial fears that he would struggle with more ball-playing responsibility than he would have had at Bolton were unfounded.
Holding reportedly want to leave on loan in January, but was convinced by Wenger to stay and be ready to step-in in case of injuries to Koscielny, Mustafi or Gabriel. It turned out to be a wise decision, as a drastic change in circumstances gave Holding more opportunities to play.
On April 17, against Middlesbrough on a Monday night, Arsenal switch to a back three. With Mertesacker still out and Mustafi nursing an injury, Holding played as a left sided centre back. He looked a natural in the system, ably covering Monreal and competing in the air against Boro’s tall forwards.
Holding went on start the final seven games of Arsenal’s season, including the FA Cup semi-final and final. Despite the high-pressure stakes at the time, he wasn’t flustered. He defended smartly, being physical without being reckless. His tough play against Stoke’s Marko Anautovic was a particular highlight.
More impressively, he showed great confidence on the ball by always being willing to take it forward and pass out of defence. He seems to have a cool temperament, as shown by his refusal to be intimidated by Diego Costa in the cup final.
It’s early days in Holding’s Arsenal career, and we’ll have to see how he does next season with more game time before we can really get excited. However, what we saw this season suggests we have a very promising and mature player on our hands.