Thursday, March 30, 2023

Arsenal’s Next Great Defensive Hope: Can This Highly Rated Player Prove Himself?

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Arka Tarun Mukherjee
Arsenal fan and football expert, Arka Tarun Mukherjee actually used to play cricket at semi pro level. An ardent student of football tactics, ATM is very passionate about the tactical aspects of the game and has a dream of being a football manager in the future.

Arsenal secured their third signing of the summer when they closed the deal for Rob Holding from Bolton on a long term deal. The signing was not only made with a view to strengthen their defence but also keeping the future plans in mind as the player is only 20 years of age. Arsenal’s interest in Holding initiated in the middle of last season when they sent their scouts to watch the player just like three other clubs in Bournemouth, Watford and Everton. Holding impressed them all but Arsenal made the first move and secured the deal with a £2m bid late in July 2016.

Holding’s transformation was remarkable if one considers that he didn’t exactly hit the ground running from the start at Bolton. After graduating from their academy, Holding made his debut for the Wanderers first team in August 2015 against Brighton and Hove Albion in the Capital One Cup. Many were surprised to see that the young defender kept his place for the next league game against Middlesbrough after the defeat to Albion in the cup a few days earlier. Ii that game, Neil Lennon experimented with a 3 man backline and Bolton had a shocker which resulted to Boro settling the tie within the first 45 minutes. Holding, in particular, looked like a fish out of water in that game and was immediately dropped from the team. For the next four months, the 20-year old couldn’t find his way back into the first team but when he returned something seemed changed.

This time, the graph of the player went upwards amidst the plunge of the team’s position in the Championship. The defender impressed as a centre-back as well as a right-back, in whatever position he was asked to fill in and his sudden transformation from the bloke getting outplayed at the Riverside Stadium to the one he had become in the space of four months surprised not only the fans and the manager but also the player himself. According to his own words, after receiving the  Bolton Player Of The Year award, Holding remarked that he dreamt of playing a couple of senior  games at the start of the season for his team and ended up making 26 appearances for the Trotters in the Championship for 2015/16.

Standing at 1.82 meters, the defender offers a physical presence at the back but his strength lies in his reading of the game and technical qualities on the ball. The defender is very much in the mould of John Stones but is smart enough to know the difference between utilizing possession well to conceding it to an opponent by taking too much time on it. A player who puts his body on the line and displays the fighting spirit on the pitch mastering the art of interception and backing it up with good positional play and cultured passing is a deadly combination. Adding to that, the down to earth and humble attitude, one can certainly get an idea of how the player made such huge strides in the space of six months.

Holding has all the attributes needed to be the player he wants to be in the future and would be someone we will be witnessing as a part of Arsenal’s backline for a long time. With Bolton being condemned into the third tier of English football for the first time since 1993, a move for their top performer of the season was always on the cards, yet coming to London and at Arsenal is something which just can’t be bettered as the player keeps on speaking about his move being so unreal that he has to pinch himself for realization. The defence has been a problem area for the Gunners for some now but with the arrival of holding it is sure that they are well placed to call upon someone who can step up to the plate just as Arsene Wenger envisions it. Thus the French manager has quickly accomplished another deal which has a high possibility of annoying the fans (which they are already) as it is not the immediate fix, but will ultimately realize the impact of it in the coming years, and then it will look like an absolute steal. The transfer of Rob Holding to Arsenal has thus Arsene Wenger written all over it!

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