Written by Josh Sippie
When Arsenal signed Rob Holding in the middle of the summer for a reported £2.5m, no one wanted to believe that it was the solution to the centre-back problem, yet, given Arsene Wenger‘s history, it felt painfully likely that it would be just that.
A 20-year-old from Bolton to fill the void. Hoorah.
Shkodran Mustafi soon followed and, despite a very promising showing in preseason and a hard luck defeat to Liverpool to open the season, Rob Holding disappeared into other competitions.
Holding has emerged in this new three-back system and reminded us that, had he been the solution after all, things wouldn't have been that bad. This lad is a true competitor. Just 21 years old, yet he holds down the back line like he hasn’t a fear in the world.
It used to be that Wenger lived on slick signings like this, but in the modern game, it’s not so easy. Yet here is Wenger doing his old thing all over again, finding excellent talent for next to nothing.
It’s still early in the young man’s career, but the reasons are piling up as to why he may go down as one of Arsene Wenger’s best transfers ever. We start with No. 3.
Probably the No. 1 thing you want a defender to have is composure and it’s not always easy to find. Someone who can’t get juked into the fourth row, or doesn’t lose his head under pressure or space out when holding a high line.
Holding is always dialed in, tuned in, wired in, whatever you want to call it. He is a statue back there when he needs to be, unfazed by what’s around him and unaffected by fancy step-overs and whoopty-doos.
At 21 years of age, that is quite the compendium of mental hurdles already overcome. From there, all they really need to accomplish is turning him into a Premier League calibre defender in terms of reading play and handling it physically, but as he is English, that latter portion can be checked off as well.
There are so many reasons to be excited about what he is as a player and that will obviously play a huge part in his overall legacy. But more on why Wenger should take particular pride in this signing at No. 2.
2. BECAUSE SHKODRAN MUSTAFI CAME WITH HIM
We do not know how well Holding might have been able to hold down the fort had the German not came just a few weeks later, but chances are he would have had his struggles, just like every other 20-year-old. But then again, maybe he wouldn’t have.
The point is, throwing Mustafi on top of Holding before the young Englishman could even stretch his legs did so many things in Holding’s favour. For starters, it beat the complacency right out of him before he could even think of it.
Not only that, but bringing in Mustafi prevented so much pressure from being thrown on Holding from the start. Another thing Wenger used to love to do is buy these relatively unknown youngsters and throw them in the line of fire. Sometimes that can be effective, but sometimes it’s just as well to let them grow up at the club in their own time.
Moving on to No. 1, I just have to say it.
1. because he didn't cost £50m
Rob Holding will always have the pleasure of being compared to John Stones. He will also have the pleasure of costing far less than his English counterpart.
Not to brag, but back when we signed Holding, I was there to tell you that by the end of the year, it’d be clear that Wenger emerged victorious in this isolated transfer duel. It’s not over yet, but if Wenger sticks to this formation, it will be over soon.
City spending that much money on a 'promising' defender never made any sense. They made Everton look like geniuses. Yes, there is plenty to be excited about in Stones, but he had only ever been promising, not proven.
Even if they both pan out, which is incredibly likely, the price difference is what will be the bragging rights in the end. And in the end, Wenger will look like a genius because of this signing. Just because the hype is still in Stones' corner, doesn't mean it isn't siphoning away rather quickly.
This was Wenger strutting his stuff. He spent a fraction of the price that City did to accomplish the same thing. Now we just have to sit back and let Holding do the rest.