As soon as there was some real smoke to the Rob Holding holding deal I went to WhoScored.com to find out all I could about Arsenal’s newest signing. But as is often the case, the stats didn’t tell me anything other than the fact that Bolton were not playing great football. So, I reached out on twitter and asked for a Bolton supporter who knew about Holding. I got Dan Murphy (twitter @murbroski) who writes for lionofviennasuite.com, the Bolton page for SB Nation. His answers paint the picture of a very exciting prospect for Arsenal.
As you know passing is Arsenal’s bread and butter. Our center backs routinely dominate passing stats, in terms of completion rate, and are required to build the attack from out of the back. Wenger especially prizes a center back who can pass vertical, long, and on the ground*. How well will Holding fit in here? Did he have any special moments passing the ball that you can recall?
Holding is very much a ball playing centre back, he’s in the mould of John Stones, but instead of constantly messing with the ball in dangerous areas and getting caught out, Holding is effective and smart with the ball, everything he does with it he does for a reason. If a pass is the most viable options that’s what he’ll do, but he’s also not adverse to just clearing his lines when the time calls for it. Having said that, his passing ability is top notch, he’s able to pick out attackers in dangerous positions or keep the ball ticking with playing short passes to the midfielders. I’m quite excited to see how well he does in a team who actually play a passing style.
One place where Arsenal are sometimes weak is set play defense, how well did Holding do in one-on-one duels? Was he the match up for bigger, stronger, men or did the manager sort of hide him on set plays?
As you’re probably aware Holding isn’t the tallest of defenders, but he holds his own at set pieces. While not particularly standing out as someone who’ll constantly win headers, he is an organiser and a leader at the back and can get a defence marshalled in order to defend an incoming cross.
Is he good in the air? Fearless?
His ability in the air is completely passable, he isn’t weak despite his height but it isn’t a particular standout aspect to his game either. I’d like to say he did win the majority of his aerial duels (2.5/5.3 TT) and he certainly didn’t lose any without a fight.
Another place where Arsenal center backs have to be aggressive is in intercepting the ball* off the forwards. How well does he read the game for that?
Holding is a great reader of the game, at only 20 he is a very intelligent player who’s well aware of his positioning the vast majority of the time. He’s great at closing down space, covering the lines and winning back the ball.
And last ditch tackles… we make a lot of those. Did he have any spectacular tackles that you recall? Clearances off the line?
He made one brilliant last ditch tackle in a game against Reading but ended up getting sent off for it. He’s a Northern lad so he’s got that toughness and spirit about him. He’ll never shy away from a challenge, if it’s required, and he’s tough and precise when he makes them. I would say he isn’t the best *yet* at recovering tackles if the back line has been breached by a striker running in on goal.
One thing Arsenal lack is a player willing to sacrifice himself to get the block. I’m thinking of a guy like former Bolton player Gary Cahill, you know, that center back who fearlessly charges down shots? It’s not really a mark against him if he’s not like that, because most modern footballers turn out of the way of shots, but man, it would be great if he was a great shot blocker!
He was in a tough place at Bolton last year with the state of the team on and off the field, but he never shirked away and fought in every single game he played. He’s certainly one who’ll put his body on the line for the cause.
Arsenal are already lauding him for his versatility, what other positions did he play at Bolton? Do you think he could be a fullback? Arsenal fullbacks have to run for miles, and sprint, and sprint, and cross, and sprint, did I mention the sprinting? You’ve seen how much space we give teams, yeah? Loads of sprinting. Could he do that?
He is very versatile, he can play anywhere in defence and some reckon he could cut it in defensive midfield, though that is yet to be proven. He first made his name at Bolton playing at right back, where he isn’t afraid to carry the ball forward or sprint up in support of attackers to swing in a cross, he performed admirably there but it’s clear that he is a centre back.
He scored one goal this season. What was his goal like?
His goal was an instinctive finish in the six yard box when he pounced on a long ball and smashed it into the net. He’s a nuisance in the oppositions’ box as he shows great attacking intent.
How is he off the pitch? Does he smoke? Chase women? Get drunk and try to hump a taxi (Nicklas Bendtner)? Or is he a homebody?
Many Bolton youth often seem that they’re a bit big headed and love living the high life, but I have it on good accord that Holding is a lot more down to earth. He’s a grounded lad that doesn’t cause controversy and constantly works hard to improve himself.
Your final thoughts?
In summary, Holding is a highly promising defender. He still has room to improve, but he already has so many highly developed aspects to his game. He’s a great passer, not afraid to carry the ball, tough tackler and intelligent reader of the game. Providing he isn’t left to rot like Chambers has been, he could go very far.
I have to thank Dan Murphy for taking time to talk to an Arsenal supporter. I know that Bolton-Arsenal have had a poor relationship in the past but I appreciate him putting the past behind us and taking time to give us his insights on this fine young prospect. I actually feel a bit bad that Arsenal took Rob Holding so young and so cheap.
*We will be talking about this more next week.