Arsenal have had a mixed start to their 2019/20 campaign.
Going forward, the Gunners have looked entertaining with the dazzling of Pepe, instinctive touches of Aubameyang and ice-cold finishing from Alexandre Lacazette.
The same can not be said for Emery’s men from a defensive point of view. Despite conceding one less goal compared to this stage at last season, the cracks are still very evident and seem to be signalling the same old defensive struggles once again.
From the “disappearing” acts of David Luiz to the unwanted gimmicks from Sokratis Papastathopoulos, the Gunners backline is desperately calling for a calm and consistent figure that could offer some form of stability for Emery.
It seems that person is not far off as the imminent return of a man long on the sidelines is just around the corner.
Rob Holding has had an exceptionally tough year at Arsenal since injuring his knee back in December of 2018, missing 40 matches since that time.
However, after such a long layoff, it seems like the 23-year-old may be on his way back for the Gunners after he returned to training (via the Standard) this week.
In the time Holding has been out, his partner at the back, Laurent Koscielny, has departed and David Luiz has signed to help fix up the centre-back issue, whilst the drubbing at Anfield last week still shows leaks in the defence for Unai Emery’s side.
So, with Holding on his way back, can he transform Arsenal’s defence again? Here are two reasons why he can do just that.
Rob Holding may not have set the Premier on fire since joining from Bolton Wanderers, but at the very least, the Englishman has remained relatively consistent since Arsene Wenger surprised fans with the signing in 2016.
Up until his injury last season, the ex-Bolton man averaged 1.1 tackles, 1.2 interceptions and 3.7 interceptions per game in the 10 Premier League matches he played (via WhoScored.com), whilst also winning 21 aerial duels in that time.
The former England U21 international is also comfortable with the ball at his feet, making 614 passes in the 10 games, just 227 less than Laurent Kocielney who played 11 games more.
Holding looked sharp in Arsenal’s U23 game recently and as the 23-year-old continues to get more game time under his belt, the more chance he has of finding himself at the heart of Arsenal’s defence once more.
BUILD FOR THE FUTURE
With Ainsley Maitland-Niles just 21, Hector Bellerin 24, Sead Kolasinac 26 and Kieran Tierney only 22, once 23-year-old Rob Holding joins the side, Arsenal could field a very young defence and begin to build for the future; something they have not done at the back for many years.
David Luiz has come into this side this summer, but the 32-year-old has already been criticised for his performance in a Gunners shirt, whilst Sokratis Papastathopoulos is 31-years-old and barely a long-term option himself.
Once Holding comes back into the side, Emery should make him his priority and begin to build on this young, inspiring defence.
The return of Rob Holding couldn’t have come at a better time. Reports have suggested he could be fully fit for action after the international break and that is refreshing news for Emery and the Gunners faithful alike.
Rob Holding will now bring a sense of competitiveness to the likes of David Luiz and Sokratis, knowing that any mistake henceforth could be the end to their reign in the Gunners backline (after the exile of Mustafi).
He will also provide proper squad depth as the period for tough schedules are coming thick and fast and it’s always welcome to have a “reliable” extra hand to call upon for all departments.
Lastly, it’s no coincidence Arsenal were unbeaten last season up until the 23-year-old’s long term injury.
It all but shows how much of an upgrade he could be to Emery’s current options and who knows if his integration back to first-team action might just spark yet another unbeaten spell and even a boost of positive fortunes in the Gunners’ top-four hopes.