Despite being much maligned in his later tenure, Arsene Wenger didn’t do all bad. I don’t think anything in life is absolutely good or bad.
Apart from the FA Cup wins, he signed a then little-known defender called Rob Holding from Bolton Wanderers, and the usual points of “who is he?!”, “Mr. Wenger, what you doing?!” and “he’s lost it!!” emerged. We did get Mustafi, Perez, and Xhaka in that window, but Holding’s signing did turn up a few eyebrows. Yes, Wenger’s reputation in part was, and is, based on finding young talent and developing them. Many of the top figures in his “winning years” were such. But then this apparently wasn’t something he had lost.
Holding had an excellent game vs. the then reigning champions Leicester City, and this led to a somewhat noted post-match press conference where Wenger in the midst of getting questioned over not signing players, commented on Holding’s outstanding play.
He then bossed Diego Costa in the FA Cup final win that season, despite him not playing that much overall.
In Wenger’s final season, he didn’t feature much, though, in this new Emery era, he has stepped up to the plate.
Holding has been very capable at the back, with Mustafi and Sokratis, and this has given Emery a headache in selection terms. To use a cliche, it’s a good problem to have.
My view on Holding is that he can get into the England squad for the UEFA Nations League, and Euro 2020, and has the qualities and skill to do this soon.
Too few games
Most players by the age of 23 have a defined place, role, and identity. Holding knows he’s a centre-back – but then he has only played under 60 professional games. For a 23-year-old, this is pretty paltry. And it’s not since he has no quality – Koscielny, Mertesacker, and now Mustafi and Sokratis, have been ahead of him. And in some cases, rightly so. But for a player of Holding’s skill, he should have chalked up a lot more. Even average players by 23, if we take their debuts at 17 or 18, have a least 100-150 games under their belt. I don’t rate Chris Smalling that much, but I bet at 23 he had more. Gabriel when he played for us seldom achieved, but then he probably had more games at 23. Lovren at Liverpool is a shadow of van Dijk – but he had played under 100 games at the same age, in his native Croatia and France’s Ligue 1.
He needs consistent game time now, as he should be in his groove in his career. Without being negative, I don’t want us to lose him if he opts to leave due to not playing much for us.
Kos, Mustafi, Sokratis
Compared to our other CBs, he has attributes that are to their detriment.
For Kos, and Sokratis to an extent, it’s age. Kos has been an immense servant to Arsenal. Some may mock this, if they do so be it I don’t care, but Koscielny is in our top ten ever centre-backs. From 2012-2016 in my view, he was world class and had the pace, strength, and game reading ability amongst the very best in the world. To come from Lorient in France, to one of the biggest clubs in the world, and perform ably in one of the world’s best leagues, is stunning. Let’s not forget the error in the 2011 League Cup final, and how from the following season he stepped it up from there. Many have said – including us fans – that our players lack bottle. But to have a publicly nay globally aired error and then become a world class central defender to boot shows great strength of character.
This said, given he is 33 and is coming back from a major Achilles injury (which prevented him from potentially winning the World Cup with France), his effects and game time will be limited. Holding can take advantage of this, surely. This is no disrespect to Kos at all, but even a younger player who had such an injury would take time to bed in again.
Sokratis has come in and done very well, despite the claims of him being slow and sluggish when he signed for us. He’s anything but and has provided the hardness we’ve lacked at the back for a while. But he is 31 now, and Holding like Kos can take advantage of this. Sokratis is arguably our player of the season thus far, but as a player here for two or three years max, Holding can learn from him and be our first choice centre-back for years to come.
Mustafi is not old, and in the age-prime as a top-level player. But then he is prone to some inane faults, and then some excellent games in consecutive succession. Conceding a penalty to Crystal Palace is one thing. But bossing Salah, arguably the best wide forward on Earth at the moment, is another. He’s not a crap defender but certainly is an enigma. Granted, all players make errors. Ronaldo and Messi have missed penalties, sitters, and open goals in their times. But whilst Holding himself can make mistakes (Leicester handball), he is not as prone to rash tackles, and is not as inconsistent as Mustafi.
Mavronpanos is young too, and many of these points have can be applied to him as much as Holding. Though as Holding is more in prominence, due to Mavropanos being injured, Holding has more scope to seize his opportunity.
So we really need to thank Mr. Wenger for signing him. He can and should be starting more often, and is in a place in his time and career to position himself at one of the world’s biggest football clubs. He’s played alongside a number of the best players of their generation, including Alexis, Ozil, Aubameyang, Cech, Koscielny, etc. and there are few bigger stages in the world to do this than at Arsenal. I just want him to fulfil his potential as I genuinely believe he can be a top-level defender for both club and country.