With the return of William Saliba from his loan spell at Marseille, competition within the Arsenal defense has intensified. Rob Holding, however, seems fearless. For the 26-year-old, the extra depth in the team only serves as motivation.
“I’ve been here for seven years now and the club have made other signings as a centre-half since I’ve been there,” he said. Athleticism. “It’s up to me to support myself and prove to the manager that I’m good enough to play – and that speaks for itself over the past six years.
“I’ve seen a few centre-halves who have come in and are now gone, and I’m still here – so I have to do something right. That’s another challenge, and we’re starting from there.
Since joining Arsenal in the summer of 2016, Holding has become a fixture at London Colney. Although he is celebrated for his role off the pitch – Matt Turner recently spoke enthusiastically to Athleticism on the lengths Holding has gone to to help him settle down – he’s a footballer first and foremost. He has a competitive spirit and wants to play games.
Arsenal are back in Europe this season, and Holding believe more depth and quality in defense is needed. “Last season there were only three centre-backs, really,” he explains. “At the end it was just me, Gabi and Ben (White), and we were getting thin. Ben was carrying blows – and I had a bit of a knee knock and was going through the games in the Chelsea away game – so we were fighting to get through these last two games.
“But we have bodies with Saliba back, then Pablo [Mari] is back too, so it gives us a bit more depth if we have a few injuries again.
Arsenal’s return to the Europa League means more games and potentially more opportunities to start. That would be welcome: despite his reputation as an effective late substitute last season, Holding aspires to feature more regularly in the starting XI.
“I don’t want to look back on my career and think, ‘Oh yeah, I played really well in the last 10 minutes of games,'” he said. “I don’t want to be known as ‘the 5-3-2 defender who comes in and sees the games’, no matter how funny and fun that is.
“I want to look back on my career and think, ‘I’ve played a lot of games’. And if it’s for Arsenal, great. But no matter what, I’m not just going to give up and say, ‘Because I’m not starting, I’m not interested in coming and helping the team.” If I get on the pitch then I’m going to be there and do my best for the team and help them get to where we want to be. be.
Speaking at the launch of Arsenal’s new away kit in Orlando, Holding returns more than once to the theme of wanting more playing opportunities. He had to be patient last season – with Arsenal out of Europe, time on the pitch was quite limited.
It was this desire for playing time that almost led to him joining Newcastle in the summer of 2020. It was a sliding door moment for the defender – since then he has established himself as a valuable member of the team. Arteta team.
“It was always going to be a loan,” he explains. “I had just come back from my ACL injury and thought I needed a full season of play. But after the Community Shield against Liverpool the coach said to me, ‘You’re going to play here, I don’t know. I don’t know why you’re going on loan.’ And I said, ‘If I’m going to play here, then yeah, I’m happy, no problem’. And I ended up playing about 35 Premier League games this year- the.
Holding is one of the players who stand to benefit from Arsenal’s return to the Europa League – but there is still a lingering sense of regret that it’s not the Champions League.
“Of course, we were disappointed,” he admits. “When we were looking at the board and we had the points (advantage) and the games in hand… It was kind of like, ‘Oh, we could do that! We were able to achieve what was our end goal since the start of the season.”
“And I think there’s only been a few games where we haven’t done our best. We’ve lost five of the last 10 and kind of let it go. We’ve had a few injuries and kind of so lost “the team” – and lost important people.
Of course, things would have been different had Arsenal beaten rivals Tottenham in May. Instead, they were beaten 3-0, with Holding sent off for two yellow cards awarded after fouls on Son Heung-min.
“It stuck with me for a few days after,” admits Holding. “I remember the next day we were gone and I was walking the dog. And I was just walking – I was just thinking over and over in my head, ‘What could I have done differently? Could I have had a different body shape or not been so tight?
“I didn’t want him [Son] have a free run, so I wanted to make it a bit of a physical battle. It is what it is, we can’t dwell on it too much. You need to move on – the games are plentiful and fast. I obviously missed the Newcastle game and then was back for Everton in the last game of the season when there was still a chance (to be in the top four) if the Tottenham result went in our direction. So we had to make sure we finished strong, which we did.
Like many in the Arsenal squad, Holding attributes the top-four concession more to the team’s poor form in April than to the derby in May. “It was not limited to the Tottenham game,” he insists. “I think there were three games – Palace, Southampton and Brighton – where we lost points when we really should have finished there.”
The disappointment, however, crystallized Arsenal’s ambitions for next year. “We want Champions League qualification,” says Holding. “We have two opportunities: you have the top four and the Europa League. My preference would be to have both.
Arteta is expected to name a new Arsenal captain soon, with Martin Odegaard likely to receive the armband. Odegaard will, however, be supported by a wider leadership group. It’s a role Holding has taken on before and it seems almost certain that he will retain a key position in the team’s hierarchy. Leadership is something that, for Holding, comes naturally.
“It’s followed me everywhere since I was at Bolton, really,” he said. “Across the age groups, I’ve always been the captain of the team. It’s been a blessing and sometimes a curse – you’re kind of expected to be the one stepping forward, even though you weren’t chosen to be the one.
“It means setting the standards, doing things right – don’t do anything stupid, mess up or show up late. It’s just simple stuff.
“It should just be a given. This is how I was raised by my father. He was a rule follower and that rubbed off on me.
“I always end up being one of the guys who helps people learn and grow. You want a guy who is going to help people and move them forward, rather than holding them back.
Holding is something of an Americanophile – his partner is from the United States and he loves the food, the people and the culture. So he was a natural choice to help Turner find his feet. “As an honorary American, I have to help a ‘companion American’ get settled,” Holding smiles. “It was obviously a whirlwind for him to come – his wife arrived very pregnant and she gave birth pretty much straight away. He didn’t get a chance to sort out a car or anything and I live down the street so I just texted him and said, “Man, if you need an elevator, text me and I’ll pick you up, take your house’.”
Holding is seen as one of the oldest statesmen in the group, although he is still only 26 years old. some time!’ — and that will be a good thing,” he says. “Towards the end of my career, people are going to be like, ‘Oh my God, he’s still pretty young!’ and they’ll appreciate how long I’ve been here.
But it is a responsibility that the defender accepts. “We are a fairly young team,” he admits. “We have a few main roles: guys like me, Granit Xhaka, Thomas Partey, Mohamed Elneny, Cédric. We all have a bit of age and a bit of experience, but we also have the enthusiasm and the energy of young people, which I think creates a very good balance at the moment.
“It’s also a good group,” he adds. “The best thing about this trip was the team cohesion. I saw it towards the end of the season last year, and it continues as we left it. Everyone is together and all on the same wavelength, which is good.
“I love my time here. I love the staff and the players we work with. There’s no one I couldn’t sit in a room with and chat for 10-20 minutes. Everyone is simple and accessible.
Wearing the club’s new black stripe, Holding speaks enthusiastically about what it means to wear the Arsenal shirt. “The first time I walked into the dressing room at Emirates Stadium and saw my kit ready for the game, it was a surreal experience,” he said. “I don’t think that feeling will ever go away. I grew up watching Arsenal compete with United and was just in awe when they came to sign me. Every time I see the kit with the name on the back, I feel it.
“I remember the Tony Adams quote – ‘Play for the badge on the front of the shirt and they’ll remember the name on the back.’ It’s a constant reminder of how proud people are of that shirt.
It’s clear that Arsenal are dear to the hearts of Holding – but despite being celebrated for their role off the pitch, they are not ready to give up their time. Play is essential.
Facing fierce competition, he has proven to be a player Arteta trusts. This status is not something he will let go of without a fight. With the arrival of Saliba, Holding is preparing for two big challenges: once again demonstrating its value to Arsenal and helping the club return to the Champions League.