Rob Holding faced his sternest test of the season so far when he started in the heart of the Arsenal defence, alongside Shkodran Mustafi, against unbeaten high-flyers Liverpool last time out. On an atmospheric night at the Emirates Stadium though, the 23-year-old rose to the challenge presented by the Reds.
Holding produced a calm, mature performance as part of the Gunners’ well-organised defensive unit. He also demonstrated immense confidence on the ball and the physical ability to compete against top class attackers over the course of 90 minutes.
Since his low-key, £2 million arrival from Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 2016, the former England under-21 international has produced a few magnificent displays for the north London club, most notably in the FA Cup final triumph over Chelsea at the end of his first season with the Gunners.
More often than not though, Holding – who Transfermarkt tellingly still value at just £6.2million – has been a peripheral figure in the squad as more experienced options such as Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny have played week-in, week-out.
This summer, as with every other member of the Arsenal team, Unai Emery’s arrival gave Holding a fresh start. So far he has seized this opportunity and as his performance against Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool demonstrated, he’s far from out of his depth.
With the future of Arsenal’s defensive contingent very much up in the air, Holding presently has an opportunity to establish himself as the lynchpin of a new-look back line. With club-captain Laurent Koscielny ageing and summer signing Sokratis himself the wrong side of 30, there is certainly room in the Arsenal squad for a new defensive figurehead to emerge.
Mustafi, though only 26-years-old, has failed to consistently impress since his £35million switch to the Emirates in 2016. On top of that, Calum Chambers’ loan move to Fulham has been disastrous so far, which certainly threatens his Arsenal future.
With those factors taken into account, it is very likely that Emery shall have to negotiate a dramatic overhaul of his defensive contingent in the coming transfer windows. If Holding can make himself the reliable rock of continuity throughout that process then the squad will be all the better off for that.
His recent performances, especially against Liverpool, suggest that Holding has what it takes to become a pillar of the Arsenal first team. If that is the case then Emery may find he already has the first brick in place for the solid new defensive wall he’ll have to build.