Following rumours that a new contract for Rob Holding was imminent, The Athletic have confirmed this morning that an extension has been finalised. Just this summer, a loan deal to Newcastle was almost finalised, but Arteta intervened to keep the Englishman at Arsenal. Since then, he has been ever-present in the heart of the Gunners’ defence.
His time so far
Rob Holding was an Arsène Wenger signing back in July 2016, for a measly sum of just £2 million. The 20-year old came to Arsenal’s aid straight away, with injuries to Per Mertesacker and Gabriel at the time, but he was also part of their future plans. Throughout his 2015/16 campaign with Bolton Wanderers, he was named their player of the season.
Holding went on to make just 9 Premier League starts for the Gunners in 2016/17, keeping 4 clean sheets. Despite a lack of game time in the league, he played in the FA Cup semi-final against Manchester City, and found himself on the team sheet once more in the final, where Arsenal triumphed over local rivals Chelsea 2-1.
He came up against Diego Costa, a notoriously tough player to take on, especially given Holding’s tender age of 21 at the time. He was well-aware that Costa would try and take advantage of the difference in experience.
The young defender stood up to the Spaniard and proved to him that he wasn’t going to be beaten easily. He put in a dominant display alongside Mertesacker to help guide Arsenal to victory at Wembley Stadium.
Holding commented “I’m not sure how he changed his game [afterward], but I just think he knew that he wasn’t going to intimidate me. I think that’s what he thought he was going to do because of the age difference. Once he saw I stood up to him, he thought, ‘I’ll try something else here’.”
At this time, £2 million was seeming an absolute bargain, especially in the ever-changing football market. Arsenal gained a young centre-back who handled immense pressure, with good footwork (as demonstrated when he skipped past Sergio Aguero in the semi-final), decent passing, and an intelligent reading of the game.
An injury blow
In the seasons following, Holding further cemented his place in the starting XI with consistently solid performances. Across both the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, he amassed an average of 86% pass completion, 1.5 interceptions per game, 1.4 tackles, 3.5 clearances per game, and 0 errors leading to goals.
At Old Trafford, however, Holding’s season was dreadfully cut short. In a tackle with Marcus Rashford, he ruptured his ACL in his left knee. This came at a time when his team were in fine form, unbeaten in their last 20 games, and Holding was crucial to the maintenance of this record.
In fact, in Arsenal’s very next away game, this winning streak came to an end at the hands of a brutal Liverpool side and a 5-1 score line. At just 23 years old, he was already so important for the team, and his presence in the back-line was clearly missed.
The 4 defenders that took on Liverpool that day were as follows: Sead Kolasinac, Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi and Stephan Lichtsteiner. These are the players that Rob Holding was playing so well alongside.
To get an injury like this at what is practically the start of your career is devastating, and some players never return to their best form. For Holding, the start of this return wasn’t until September 2019, in a cup victory against Nottingham Forest.
He captained his side and bagged himself a goal in what can only be described as a dream first game back. However, things weren’t perfect yet for the 24 year-old, with injury niggles hindering his chance at a full recovery and at seeing himself back as a regular starter.
In 2019/20, he only featured 8 times for Arsenal in the Premier League, twice off the bench. His performances in these games were nowhere near those of the past, though the club was still at the beginning of its managerial transition. It was evident that his recovery would take time and require patience.
Rob Holding was trusted by Mikel Arteta in yet another FA Cup final against Chelsea, and put in another solid performance. He produced 3 tackles, 3 clearances, 1 interception, and 1 key pass to boot.
Still, with a summer overhaul on the cards at The Emirates, Holding’s future was in jeopardy. A loan move to Newcastle seemed very likely, and was all-but finalised by the board, until Arteta intervened and decided to keep hold of the Englishman.
This leads me to today’s news, the imminent announcement of his contract extension. Some Arsenal fans are pleased, though some do not see him as a quality player to use of Arsenal, in both their present and their future.
There seems to be a point-of-view within the Gunners’ fanbase that all players need to be world-class, but this is ludicrous. Squad players are essential, providing depth to a good XI of exceptional talent.
It was rumoured that Rob Holding’s previous contract had him earning some of the lowest wages in the entire Arsenal squad which, for a player who has proved himself time and time again to be worth keeping, doesn’t seem fair.
It is expected that William Saliba will return to North London at the end of his 6 month tenure in Nice, and I have no doubt that him and Gabriel will be a formidable partnership for years to come.
This would leave Holding fighting for his place, alongside a number of other centre-backs, including any that may join the club in upcoming transfer windows. Him and Pablo Mari provide reliable options off the bench, and both seemingly would be happy to fight for their place in the lineup. Not all players can start every week.
Furthermore, a number of Arsenal’s defenders are expected to leave this window or the next, with Kolasinac already having departed to Schalke. Mustafi and Sokratis are heavily linked with moves away, and David Luiz is expected to move on in the summer.
That is why I think that Rob Holding extending his contract is important for Arsenal. He is a homegrown player who fans know can perform at a high level, and who fans know is at his best in big games, which is notoriously where the Gunners fail to deliver. Arteta sees him as an emerging leader in the dressing room, having previously captained the side a handful of times.
This would leave Arsenal with Holding, Gabriel, Saliba, Mari and Chambers as options in the middle, with Tierney and Xhaka also giving Arteta options if absolutely needed. Holding is definitely good enough to provide sufficient cover with a role like this, and he is also good enough to continue to start for the remainder of this season whilst Saliba develops in France.
The 25 year old will play in North London for the next few years, and will feature in Arteta’s future plans to develop Arsenal further, and get them back where they belong.