A big shout out to Rob Holding and the Arsenal defence

Holding Is Now First Choice by Dan Smith

Smith-Rowe and Saka have rightfully been getting all the plaudits, while many will be relieved that Aubameyang got on the scoresheet twice against Newcastle.

Yet with the team keeping 5 consecutive clean sheets for the first time in over a decade it’s only correct we give a shout out to our defence.

The majority of our centre-backs have all gone through periods of criticism, so it’s only correct to equally point out when they are doing well.

It’s not at the back why we are 10th in the League in January, with our issues more in attack.
Probably the biggest improvements Arteta has made in his 13 months as manager is to organise us. Apparently, that’s textbook management, the first thing any new coach should do is fix the back 4 or 5 and build from there.

This time last year you wouldn’t have believed our squad would be able to win the FA Cup in the manner they did.

It might be taking longer than we hoped and it’s made us not exciting to watch but at least we are hard to beat.

In our current sequence of 6 games unbeaten, Rob Holding has played all 5 of the League games, in the process being rewarded with a new contract. It makes a mockery of the narrative that some gooners were trying to create earlier in the season that while Gabriel was brilliant, Holding was the weak link.

It represented a section of our fanbase. Some so desperate for us to return to our previous levels they want to convince themselves a player is the finished article based on doing very little.

Gabriel had a good debut against a poor Fulham on the opening day and was outstanding in the Carabao Cup at Liverpool, but it was premature to say he was ‘world class’, ‘signing of the season’, and all other crazy statements.

We ended up with this bizarre situation when the likes of Leicester, Burnley and Wolves were winning at the Emirates, some on social media tried to paint a picture of Gabriel being amazing while it was the three around him at fault.

I vividly remember Aston Villa comfortably beating us 3-0 at home (it could have been worse) and the likes of AFTV giving Gabriel a high score (out of 10) because it was suggested that he was the centre back trying to do a job of two people. It’s almost impossible to make your worst start to the season since the Premiership began and yet claim that one defender has been outstanding while his partner has been poor.

As regular readers will testify, I have always been a fan of Holding. At the age of 25 he’s not even in his prime, especially in a position where players tend not to be at their best until they reach their thirties.

Mikel Arteta had a reputation at Man City of coaching talent on a 1-to-1 basis and getting the very best out of them, so I have always looked at Holding as a player our manager could improve, especially with his ability on the ball. I noticed since last year how he’s been working on his upper body and just by his body language you can tell he’s developed into a leader.

His performance on Monday night was ironic given that reports strongly suggested he nearly joined Newcastle on loan in the summer, even going as far as arranging a flat in the City.
I think the deal was arranged due to the number of centre backs we have, not because he doesn’t have a future in North London.

I believe the original idea was for Holding to get regular football in the North East for a year, then return, at which point the likes of Mustafi, Luiz and Sokratis (who’s not submitted to play anyway) will be free agents, freeing up room in the squad.

The media has suggested it was only injuries that made our manager step in and block the move. Now Holding is one of the first names on our team sheet.

Gabriel is fit enough to play but was only on the bench yesterday. I have read many believing he and Mari should be our first-choice partnership.

If something is not broken, why fix it?

Holding and Luiz have earnt the right to start till they drop it. They have the baton and deserve to run with it until they have dropped it.

Be Kind In The Comments


READ MORE: Watch Cedric’s sublime backheel against Newcastle

Tags Gabriel Holding Newcastle


  1. Holding deserves to be the main right CB, but his partnership with Mari would be tested in the upcoming tough games

    1. What I don’t like about your comments is that you can’t talk without mentioning weight footed or left footed , tall defender or short defender.

      1. If you had to sell any of these to spend that money elsewhere who would it be?
        Bellerin £30m?
        Soares £5m?
        Maitland-Niles £20m
        Chambers £10m

        You don’t have to sell one.

        1. At this moment I’d take the 10m for Chambers & 20m for Niles as Bellerin is abit of a leader in the changing room (according to Teirney) and we need those like Xhaka, Laca & Holding.

  2. He kept carrol in his pocket yesterday, especially in the air. I like his f*** you mentality when opponents fall over and scream which seems to becoming the norm amongst certain teams, as witnessed by cheating from newcastle players in both recent games. He is developing into our new TA.

    1. Yeah I love that mentality too. You mean Almiron by any chance? 😜
      RH has been brilliant of late.. I bet Brucey baby is wishing he’d got his man in the summer now!

  3. If you haven’t noticed the readers of this website even some of the articles are very toxic. The “be kind in the comments” means stop being nasty, toxic and unsupportive to the team, managers, players PEOPLE.

  4. I think all the defence have improved beyond mosts expectations,Luiz Bellerin have been nothing but solid these past 2 months regardless of the fans that can never see anything good in their play no matter what they do .I’m not a fan of either over the years but will hold my ha d up when they are playing well .
    Teirney has been outstanding along with Gabriel in his first season in a new league and Mari and holding have been brilliant deputising for the injured first choice pairing .
    But my shout out would go to Leno who looks better week after week and his confidence seems to be rubbing off on the whole back line ,5 clean sheets in a row 👏

    1. Dan kit: I was never a fan of Xhaka but lately he is playing like an accomplished defensive midfielder. IMO most of the credit goes to him for the improved defense.

  5. I couldn’t agree more Dan but that is not to take anything away from Gabriel who has been immense for us since signing. He won player of the month 3 times in a row while we were struggling for form, he hardly put a foot wrong for us. Holding is a solid defender but he didn’t start the season the way he’s playing now. There were many games during our losing streak that holding was culpable. He’s not the finished product like you rightly said, but so far so good. You forget Gabriel is still young too. I’m super excited about our future as a club provided Balogun stays to compete with martinelli for goals when Auba retires, guendouzi comes back better and dangote takes over from kroenke(if wishes were horses eh?). We seem to have a strong core of young and good players right now. Good Times ahead.

    1. your wish on dangote…..hmmm. i hope he is the Abrahamovic you prayed for but he is not a football person

      1. He absolutely is, and has been an Arsenal fan since time immemorial. There’s hardly any African that is not a football person. North America on the otherhand have majority not being football fans(or soccer like they call it)

      2. Adajim I too am not keen on Dangote. First because all business men are same (you can’t trust them 100%). Abramovic is an exception not a rule. Second because of instability of African politics. A change in regime more often than not come with matters of corruption and such (whether true or untrue depends on the regime interests) which always target the richest people.

        1. Lol. You don’t know nothing about African politics and business HH. When dangote started out he aligned himself with the then ruling party and was rewarded by being granted business monopoly in Nigeria. He’s currently aligning himself with the current ruling party which was the former opposition party and he’s still being favoured from all sides. African politician don’t joke with their money and dangote is a major determinant in Nigerian and the Africa business sector. Nothing moves without his say so. His current oil refinery gives him even more power than he ever had. So whatever corruption that’s gonna happen in Africa will end up in his favour no matter what. He’s stable for life.
          And secondly, the fact that they’re business men doesn’t mean they can’t be fans. Do you think Abrahamovich or perez don’t like to make profits? They spend money to make more money. Chelsea were not as big as they are now prior to Abrahamovich taking over. And despite pumping money into Chelsea,hhe’s still a wealthier man than he was when he took over Chelsea because he was making money too.

          1. Chelsea were almost bankrupt before Abramovich bought the Club in 2003 with reported debts of £80 million. The previous owner Ken Bates had bought the Club for £1, before selling the club to Abramovich for £60 million, plus payment of the £80 million debts, ie a total of £140 million.

  6. Good post Dan, Holding has been the best defender for a while in my opinion and very consistent. Obviously big shout out to Tierney as well. Whilst Bellerin has played better recently I thought Cedric had an excellent game last night.

    1. and a healthy competition too, between mari, holding, luiz and manghalese. future looking bright.
      will luiz be offered an extension? does he deseve it at a pay-per-game basis? time will tell

    2. Declan, it is hard to understand why Cedric Soares has not been selected more often at Arsenal, when he was first choice RB for Portugal when they won the Euros?
      After this performance, questions should be asked if Arteta doesn’t give Cedric an extended run in the team.

  7. agree completely, and it a breath of fresh air to read an article praising our defence-not attack or young gun.
    football is a team game, not only for the glory of goalscorers alone.
    let me add by saying AW should have been mentioned as well, if we could blame him for wrong decisions like unreasonable contract decision and getting some bad players, he deserves praise for snapping up Holding at tender age for a million, am sure his value by now must be in multiple figures

  8. The back three system did not suit Holding who was isolated on the right side on a number of occasions.He is far more comfortable and effective as the right sided CB of two, and is playing well in that role.The suggestion of playing Gabriel and Mari together would never work as they are both heavily left footed and would create an unbalanced unit.By the end of this season I suspect Holding and Gabriel will be accepted as our best centre back pair with Luis and Mari as back up.

    1. Rob Holding is definitely doing well. I know Xhaka is having some good games….oh but how slow in body/mind! We look one player short of being a good team….the visionary creator. Personally I like like Emi Buendia, he would suit our style perfectly, he is speedy, tenacious, a ball juggler,and sees the game. He is not a one trick pony. Maybe in the summer when we have some dosh. The orchestra conductor is the most important position, so it would be nice to find him really soon.

  9. Spot on Dan, another great article from you. Holding is a future captian. Qualities are there and he is always calm. It should be Holding and who will pair him. he should always start for me. He has improved tremendously.

    1. I’ve always rated Chambers. He’s really been unlucky with injuries but hopefully game time in cup comps will give time much needed opportunity to prove how good a comfy ball playing defender he is. I feel Chambers and Holding will dominate the RCB position for a while and Gaby and Mari the LCB. Defence sorted but let’s not forget Mavropanos

    2. Chambers is an interesting case. Our forgotten man in a way that others not playing like Mustafi, Socratis and Ozil weren’t.

      He was arguably our best defender until he got hurt last year and now he cant even get on the bench most games. I think he has looked good in his few appearances since returning.

      I’d like to see him given a utility role as cover at RB (unlikely with three on front of him) CB and DM.

      More likely though he is sold and judging from the lack of posts asking why he isn’t given a chance, probably a sale that wont raise many eyebrows.

      1. Chambers needs to the the 2nd choice RCB. Luiz needs to be the break glass in case of emergency option. It is not that Luiz is a bad player, but he is gone at the end of the season, we need to find out how well Callum has recovered, whether to sell or to keep.

  10. He showed huge potential in the early days after signing for us but at one time it seemed he was not going to live up to it. Glad to see he is developing into a reliable defender.

  11. Dear admin ,underestimating gabriel’s contribution in order to compliment holding is so wrong. Yes ,holding has been excellent in the last monts but at the start of the season gabriel was outstanding ,that’s why he got 3 MOTM award. When he returns back to match fitness he should head straight back in the starting 11 alongside holding. Luiz has proven again and again that is past it and cannot be trusted.

    1. I feel some were underestimating Holding in order to compliment Gabriel
      I said Gabriel was good at Liverpool , Fulham and man United but I maintain if you lose 3-0 at home , lose at home to wolves , Leicester and Burnley , then it’s not possible for any centre back to have been outstanding

      1. True, I think he’s been underestimated for a long time because there’s nothing flashy about the way he plays. Just does his job well. Starting to grow and show his on-field personality a bit recently I think as he’s had a run of games.
        This was a classic Wenger signing that went under the radar

  12. Nice article Dan! Always a display of intelligence from you! Thanks always for stirring our thoughts and intellectualism.

    While many would praise the youngsters, and rightly so, and then your article singles out Holding, I will give great credit and weight to Arteta!

    Many have forgotten how below par our players are and have been, and now we feel things have turned around thus making them great players all of a sudden. I don’t think so. I have seen the shrewdness and brilliance of our coach. Arteta has been able to convert a weak defence and often poor defenders into an astute defensive unit, which will be tested in the coming days by well-drilled attackers.

    The question we should ask and understand is, how is/was Arteta able to do this. I see a coach who returned to learning from the great Italian teams, who were supreme at defensive football. Sadly to many, we seem to have lost our attack flair in a bid to fix our defence. I say be patient, for I see a new brand on the horizon. Arteta seems to have learnt that the great Italian defences were so great because they knew how to kill off the speed and intensity of the game. They would typically slow the game down to a draggy pace, which enabled them to control the game as well as the defence even better. We see a lot of such a characteristic in the way our defenders play. They have learnt to slow the game down and hold on to the ball often passively, albeit with an intention to suck in the opposition. This is the brilliance that I see Arteta presently using to solidify our defence.

    We may suffer attack-wise for a while, however, with a Partey, or another dynamic partner alongside, the team will soon possess the ability to suck in and split the opposition open to allow our attackers attack the space ahead.

    It will require patience to understand the subtleties as well as to purchase the right players for such for system to work. But in time, the hard work and understanding behind the scene will pay off. Patience is the watch word!

    Once again, please stay safe and keep positivism in a world devoid of such!


      1. Jon…

        Oh what a delight to read from you again! It’s been a while! I remain thankful for your kind words!! I am always learning and making effort to share from the greater wisdom of the whole, which includes from you and many other bright minds on JA!! It is always pleasing and delightful to read such thought provoking articles!

        I hope you are healthy and hearty!! Looking positively to a healthier environment around the world, including within the Arsenal clime!

        My warmest and kindest regards!


  13. Yup, agree about Holding and thought he was a low-key standout yesterday. I know ppl are hyping up Xhaka a bit right now too, but honestly, we’ve been burned too many times by him for me to have any longterm faith in him any longer. His form ALWAYS dips to disaster territory after a good spell of games. If we want a high finish we need consistenly great players. Xhaka is only periodic.

  14. Holding biggest problem has been consistency. He has periods where he is top class then others when he is average . His willingness to pass forward is a double edge sword as when in form it is magnificent but when out of form leads to many dangerous possession lost.

  15. Look at it another way.
    All our defenders seem to be better now.
    I think the reason is, we finally are getting the whole team involved in pressing and defending. Something teams above us have done for several years, while we were stuck in outdated tactics.
    When we are defending as a team, it means the defense as a whole comes under less pressure, and they will do better.

  16. Rob Holding needs to stay fit because that side of his career has held him back. Him and Gabriel are probably the future of Arsenal defence and i think Luiz deserves credit for playing with him and making it easier for him to do his job. His passing was something that let him down but he is improving in that area. Stay fit and he could be very good. He does need to be seen against top opposition to get a better guide to his ability.

  17. Holding’s a solid defender, pretty consistent, no major weaknesses and appears to have a good attitude. What’s impressed me the most is the way he’s been able to pass out of defense under pressure – Its surprised me recently how good and reliable he is for that. Deserves this recognition.

  18. Wenger took a punt on him, and he was derided by many for it. Looks like this has turned out very well for Arsenal. One thing that folks forget is that defenders take a little longer to mature.

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