Rob Holding’s performance against Palace shows that Arsenal have a top quality backup player

When we talk about the titles Arsene Wenger won, we rightly mention the same legendary names.

In the Frenchman’s first Double, Petit and Viera were labelled the best midfield partnership in England, Overmars scored crucial goals in the run in, a young Anelka emerged, and our famous back 5 grinded out consecutive 1-0 victories.

Just as crucial though was when injuries and suspension hit us, fringe players like Grimandi and Christopher Wreh stepped in and contributed.

In Mr Wenger’s second Double, three keepers qualified for a winners medal while Matthew Upson deputised at times for Adams and Keown, Luzhnyi for Dixon.

Even when we went a season unbeaten things were not perfect. For a spell we would not have Viera or Gilberto in the middle (sometimes both) but could trust an Edu or Parlour to come out from the cold and never let us down.

My point is, no matter the title winners throughout history, every Champions need squad players. Individuals who will sit on the bench but when you need them to can contribute. They don’t even have to do anything spectacular, yet they always ensure you a 7/8 out of 10 performance. These are personalities who are certainly not happy to be a substitute but are professional enough where they remain positive in training.

Often they make a career choice, be a big fish in a small pond elsewhere where you most likely won’t lift trophies, or not play every week but have silverware on your CV?

In the meantime they improve by being around  world class talent every day.

Arsenal are 10 games away from immortality. Given we have one of the youngest squads in the division it would go down as one of the great Prem stories if we lifted the trophy for the 4th time, and our first for 19 years .

Rightfully so, Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard,Saliba, etc, would become legends, and names that live forever. Trossard’s signing would be celebrated while brilliant decisions from Arteta, such as pushing Xhaka further forward would be heralded.

Rob Holding won’t be the first person on people’s lips yet yesterday, with Saliba on the side-lines he came in and played his part, again what a title winning squad needed.

This was the defender’s first League start since last season’s North London Derby where he was bullied so much, he felt the only way to stop Son was two challenges that warranted him getting sent off.

Our manager has a history of not tolerating players who don’t follow his ethos, sometimes he doesn’t forgive at all. The Spaniard waited only till now to give the centre back an opportunity from the start in the Prem to make amends for a careless red card, which played a huge part in us not qualifying for the Champions League.

Holding couldn’t argue with, based on form, Saliba and Gabriel have done little wrong for there to be a reason to break up that pairing.

In our first leg of the last 16 tie against Sporting Lisbon though, Kiwior was preferred to start in Portugal, confirming that Holding was now 4th choice in the pecking order.

Quite a fall from grace for someone who was talked out of going to Newcastle or Leeds on loan in the past two summers.

So going into this week Holding knew he’s not in his bosses long term plans. It’s not clear if the club want to extend his contract, and not many Gooners have been campaigning for him to be featuring more.

Despite that, he was terrific on Thursday when replacing Saliba, so great, he’s now ahead of Kiwior in the queue.

4-1 against Palace might make you think that the Gunners didn’t have a lot of defending to do. Yet even low on confidence  the Eagles possess tricky attackers who like to run at you, dribbling with the ball. Against the likes of Zaha your focus has to be on point with the player looking for one touch to draw a foul. Yet Holding never lost concentration with Saliba not missed.

For Holding to play to the standard he has in his last two matches is testament to his character. He hasn’t let it impact his confidence, yet hasn’t sulked and been unprofessional. He patiently waited for his chance and made it count .

Where the likes of Reiss Nelson and Vieira didn’t take advantage of their chance in Europe, Holding has gotten himself noticed .

He’s done this before.

In the  2017 FA Cup Final, injuries and suspensions meant the then 20 year old started at Wembley, having only played 9 League games. Helped by BFG, the 2 million signing from Bolton produced what remains one of his finest performances. As the Ox said at full time Holding was so relaxed ‘he doesn’t know what he’s just done‘.

With his contract due to expire in 2024, the next window will be his employers last chance to get a decent fee for their asset.

Both parties might decide that after 7 years in North London it might be beneficial if he goes somewhere where he can play more often.

It wouldn’t shock me if he turned out very good elsewhere.

Some in his position don’t peak till their early thirties so at 27 , Holding still has a lot to learn. I have always maintained under the current regime Holding can be taught and developed into a better player.

He might have done enough this week to convince those in power he’s a reliable squad player to have around the place. That’s how good he’s been in the last 4 days.

Holding could play 30- 40 fixtures for a mid-table side who don’t compete for honours, or he can play 20-25 times a season and lift trophies.

He’s already got two FA Cup medals and needs to feature two more times in the Prem to be guaranteed a winners medal if the next 10 games go well.

It hasn’t been confirmed how long Saliba will be out for but I trust Holding.

If we become Champions, Holding’s display against Palace might not be remembered as clearly as others, but make no mistake it was what every Champions need.

The forgotten man for most of the season might be about to play a massive part when it truly matters.

If he defends like he did this weekend for our next 10 games we will be Champions.


Tags Rob Holding


  1. He might be content with his role as well – he gets pretty well paid, stays in great shape, gets to be part of what seems to be a really tight group.

    And he may well be realistic of his potential and is happy he is where he is.

    If he is content, that would be ideal for us because he is great cover and by all accounts a good person in the room.

    1. Like you, I think that Holding is happy at Arsenal and so far hasn’t to my knowledge thrown his toys out of the pram, instead waits patiently for his chances to come along, even if they are sporadic.

      Having someone like Holding who appears content with his lot is very useful. It currently looks like the perfect symbiotic relationship.

  2. A lot of good points.
    To be honest, I have never seen Holding as good enough to start for any team, which wants to challenge for the title.
    But as a back-up, he may be fine, and hopefully he can accept, that is his role.
    But well done to him for his performance against Palace. He was really good, IMO.

    1. John Stones at Man City has made many more mistakes and cost more in results than Holding but he still gets picked regularly; top coaches seem to see the value in a player like that.

    2. Holding is not “4th choice in the pecking order”, he’s 1st choice to stand in for Saliba, as he’s right footed. Just as Kiwior is 1st choice to stand in for Gabriel, as he’s left footed.

  3. He deserves to start against Leeds, because of his excellent performance. Tierney should start ahead of Zinchenko too, because of his assist

    Our key players should know that the starting line-up will be made based on productivity and ratings

    1. @GAI
      I agree with you about Tierney who really needs to start against Leeds @ home and Liverpool away.

    2. Zinchenko has been absolutely brilliant, and in a way it is a pity for Tierney. But I prefer Zinchenko any time.

      1. In general I would agree. But it is horses for courses. We need the better defender for teams with tricky wingers and inside left and right forwards.
        So I would like Tierney for the next 2 games. After that OZ can return.

        1. Tierney is better defender but arsenal play better with zinchenko in the team. Tierney maybe excel in old wenger team.. They call it marauding full back?.. This arteta team don’t play like that. Zinchenko start as a leftback when defending but spend about 80 percent of the game as extra midfielder.. That is how we control the match home and away. Opposition don’t know how to handle zinchenko… Do you remember zinchenko assist to saka..

    3. @Gai Someone get an assist doesn’t mean they will start the next game.
      Zinchenko is a better football player and ball carrier than KT
      KT on the other hand is a better defender
      TBH Zinchenko makes the team click very well with the midfielders we have.

  4. Good points as always Dan. But tbh I think Nelson has been decent when given chances this season. Like earlier seasons he hasnt shied away from the ball and did get stuck in on the tackles and trackbacks. So tactics wise he has followed what MA wants from his left winger. Against Sporting also he was good creating chances by sending in dangerous balls across and tracking back. Marti just has been on a hot run of form scoring for 6 consecutive league games that maybe by comparision Nelson looks underwhelming. But in my mind he has been good enough as a standin LW. Regarding Viera I largely agree but again if you look at how he used to play in Portugal vs how he is being taught to play here there is a lot of difference. And also, Viera has popped up with crucial displays as well if you remember the 2-0 victory against Wolves, he was pivotal with his movement and final ball. IMO all 3 (Holding, Nelson, Viera) have had some decent performances when called upon and some inconsistencies as well. It is not black and white about any of them being more worse. Its just that if I rate them based on consistency I would go Holding, Nelson, Viera (this season taking into account injuries too.)

  5. I saw Holding play well against PALACE.
    BUT I have not changed my long held opinion about him one bit. I have long thought him well below the level we need, even for a proper back up CB.
    He is loyal and undemanding but the overriding factor of importance is that he is not good enough, based on his long time here already and not merely one good game.

    1. I saw Holding play well…
      Next sentence, “based on his long time here already and not merely one good game”.

      Quite contradictory is one post would you not say.

      Thankfully Arteta knows better

  6. Tierney and holding are excellent guys,Arteta should think about playing them often as football is marathon and he needs everybody to be fit.

  7. Holding’s ideal opponent is an Eduoard or Mateta type player, strong and hard, good in the air but not blessed with intelligence and guile. Harry Kane has all of those qualities and that’s why he made Holding (and most other centre halves to be fair) look ordinary. Son also caused him problems because he’s so mobile. I see Holding playing Bamford fairly well but not Gakpo or Nunes. We’ll see what Mikel thinks. As far as Tierney, he’s awesome but learning to play the Zinchenko way. I think he’s up for it and if we manage to hold on to top spot and win the Prem, he’ll stick around because of the “promise” (as in potential) of more to come with this team. He will be ok being a rotational player in a PL champion team playing in the CL. If we fall away, he might be tempted to leave.

  8. The Invincibles didn’t consists Martin Keown at first eleven but boy, they needed them at times. Same as Holding. He is still the old style defender with pure defensive abilities and comes in diving at desperate times. Who can forget that low block of Holding, Gabriel and White? Absolute rock. I would push the club to renew his contract as we need him when fighting for all fronts next season. Same with Tierney, Nelson and Elneny.

  9. A loyal and honest lad who’s quite happy with his roll, his contribution is paramount as it’s not easy to rarely see action yet remains focus and do well when you are call upon.

    Just get on kid don’t listen to the noise in the market but take notes of the cash that changes hands.

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