By Eli Haidari
Tuesday night marked another convincing win for the Gunners, and alongside that an assured performance from Rob Holding- something that is rapidly becoming a routine occurrence.
Victory over Southampton made it 16 points from a possible 18 and with that four clean sheets. It is no coincidence that Holding has started all six fixtures on the right hand side of the back four with his vocal, resolute and disciplined defending being influential in Arsenal’s resurgence up the Premier League table.
His vocal presence on the pitch is something Mikel Arteta notably values with club captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang preferring to offer advice more in one-on-one situations with his team mates, whilst during matches- allowing his football to lead by example. In the first half especially, it was clear that Arteta wanted his players to defend high upfield. In the 47th minute Holding could clearly be heard when he yelled “David line! Line! Line! Hold!” In the latter stages of the game he preceded his selection of headed clearances from the Arsenal box by screaming “Hey, come on lets go!” and “Back in!, back in!” His ability to voice Arteta’s instructions throughout the match as well as spur on his team mates to see out the victory was influential in us gaining revenge against the Saints, three days after they had knocked us out of the FA Cup in the fourth round.
Holding’s presence is something that has been clear to see throughout the campaign. Notably in our defeat to Wolves earlier on in the season at the Emirates, Adama Traorè went down easily after a challenge from Holding. In anger and pure frustration Holding could clearly be heard yelling towards referee Michael Oliver “He’s built like a brick s*** house, how can he go down like that? F*** me.” Of course, this was not by any means an example of Holding demanding more from his fellow team mates or passing on instructions from Arteta. However, it resonated strongly with the Arsenal faithful as it indicated passion and fight, something that was considerably lacking throughout the Arsenal side before Christmas.
Arsenal currently have the fourth best backline in the division with only Man City, Tottenham and Aston Villa ahead of them, all of whom have played fewer games. As well as starting 16 of our 20 league fixtures so far this campaign Holding also boasts the most aerial battles won throughout the squad with 41, significantly higher than Gabriel Magalhães in second with 27. He also boasts the most clearances at 66 which once more, distances himself considerably from our Scotsman Kieran Tierney in second with 43. His commanding performance against the Saints saw him rack up more clearances than any other defender on the pitch, as he found himself with his hands fall all night with David Luiz experiencing an uncomfortable night at St Mary’s.
His performances of late are reminiscent of his rich form in the 2018/19 season prior to his untimely crucial ligament rupture. Holding had not lost one of the sixteen games he had played during the campaign and rightly so, we were all getting rather excited about his clear talent. His injury kept him on the side-lines for eight months and so naturally, he was not rushed back to first team football. Our recruitment of Pablo Mari in last year’s January transfer window and then Gabriel in the summer seemed like it could be the end of the road for Holding. Nevertheless, his grit and determination which has been reflected throughout his performances this season, resulted in the Arsenal board rewarding him with a contract extension until at least 2024- underlining how he is firmly in the Gunners plans moving forward.
Speaking to Arsenal.com Arteta said: “Since I started as Arsenal manager I have been hugely impressed with Rob’s contribution to the club and the dressing room, one and off the pitch.
“The quality of his work everyday on the training pitch is excellent and he is translating this into consistently high performances in matches.”
Tuesday night’s victory over Southampton marked Holding’s 100th appearance in an Arsenal shirt. Given his rich form this season with his commanding and assertive presence, as well as the clear faith from Arteta, it seems the future is bright for our number 16.
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