“Arsene Wenger shall be harsher when it comes to underachieving players,” write even some of his most loyal supporters, when one or all of Granit Xhaka, Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck make the starting line-up for Arsenal.
When it comes to Rob Holding, however, the Gunners manager has been quick to make a decision and rightfully so.
Signing for Arsenal as a low-risk, high-reward prospect for £2.5 million from Bolton Wanderers in June 2016, the 22-year-old has had a mixed start to his Arsenal career, earning early plaudits from the Arsenal supporters before joining a long list of players they want out of the club they support. His performances, unfortunately, do justify their characteristically bipolar stance.
While it’s a truism that the bar is quite low for new signings and youngsters and football fans have a strong penchant for bigging them up, he, a Tameside lad, did have remarkable outings in his debut season for the Gunners.
Some of his showings were so impressive that many even made a case for his being a better defender than World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger also chimed in, following a solid display from him in the 0-0 draw at Leicester City in August 2016, as he said, “I am sorry he didn’t cost £55 million.”
While his stocks slowly began plummeting despite the Gunners sending his first-team rival Calum Chambers on loan to Middlesbrough, his heroic display against Chelsea in the FA Cup finals against Chelsea in his debut season at the club when Arsenal’s three best centre-backs were unavailable pretty much confirmed that he’s here to stay.
Plus, his shutting down one of the Arsenal’s biggest enemy Diego Costa in the Wembley Stadium win was what many hadn’t seen from an Arsenal player in ages and what convinced everyone that he belongs at the clubs.
However, his second season at the north London club has so far largely been forgettable, as he’s been struggling to get into the squad despite Arsenal predominantly playing three at the back this season. Starting only six league games, he’s only been an afterthought in his gaffer’s defensive reckoning, and his showing in the 4-2 loss to bottom-half Championship outfit Nottingham Forest justified most of his detractors’ convictions.
Given that the Gunners have fewer long-term centre-back prospects than a title-challenging team ought to have at any point, they cannot afford to offload him. Young defenders are bound to make mistakes, and the best ones learn from their mistakes.
“At a young age, you need to commit those fouls [and mistakes] because, otherwise, only 30-year-old players will play,” said former Indian Super League winning manager and World Cup winner Marco Materazzi. “Young defenders need to learn from those mistakes and be more cautious.”
Thus, he might still come good, but he needs chances to commit mistakes and learn from them. A loan to Burnley or a Premier League club that play a brand of football similar to that of Arsenal in the summer will do him a world of good, but he has eight top-level games he can play in until that happens.
With finishing above sixth — and below sixth — being quite improbable at this point, perhaps, Arsenal shall field some of their second-string players more often in the domestic league.
With Laurent Koscielny proving fragile as of late, needing sufficient rests before crucial Europa League games and always one minor unfortunate instance away from sustaining a big injury, they’re in a position where they need to call upon the fringe players for the league encounters not to just keep the first-choice players fit but also keep the fringe ones match-fit in the event that something undesirable happens.
Arsenal can, thus, do worse than playing their English centre-back contingent in every other league game in the build-up to a potential Europa League final in late May.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
Follow Praveen on Twitter @PraveenR_P
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