A Bolton Scouting Report on Rob Holding

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.

Follow Dan on Twitter @murbroski and you can keep tabs on the ongoing Bolton saga through Dan and his fellow long-suffering supporters over at Lion of Vienna Suite.

Qq

*We will be talking about this more next week.

24 Comments on A Bolton Scouting Report on Rob Holding

  1. Thanks Tim and Dan! Loved this. Wish we could get the same perspective for everyone we bring in.

  2. Holding sounds like a Chambers v2. Chambers being “left to rot” is why I am worried about this signing. Hopefully Holding and one of Koscielny or Chambers can eventually strike up a good partnership. Mertescielny was a great partnership, but that was 2-3 years ago.

  3. Generous of that Bolton fan to take the time to answer those questions. It’s great to have his perspective. Thanks, Dan!

    But look, I’ll be totally honest, it’s really, really hard to get excited about these ‘one for the future’ signings at the moment. This morning’s heartache comes courtesy of an exciting Riyadh rumor immediately quashed by his agent, all the while United edge closer to making the signing of the summer. Hard to understand our lack of intent / activity in the market.

    • I’ve avoided comment. What is there to say? It’s frustrating? It’s disappointing? I’m pisssed off? Nothing’s going to change?

      This reminds me of how we used to speculate that “if only Wenger had money” or how we speculated about “well maybe that guy didn’t want to come to Arsenal” or “his agents must have convinced him to go to Wolfsburg” or “he wanted guaranteed blah blah”. It looks like Arsenal are an attractive club (because of Wenger and because of our place in history/world football/money) and we can get some players but we are not a club like Man U, Chelsea, City, PSG, Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona. We have a great manager but not a top tier manager. We have a lot of money but not top tier money. We have a lot to offer but not top tier stuff to offer. So, we have trouble attracting top tier talent. When Aubameyang literally laughs off the idea of playing for Arsenal because he prefers playing for Borussia Dortmund, or when fucking Vardy picks Leicester over Arsenal, you know we have an image problem.

      And I’m tired of people telling me that Özil and Sanchez are top tier talent. They are good but as I have said dozens of times they were unceremoniously dumped out of their clubs in exchange for top tier talent (Bale/Suarez). They are the kind of talent Arsenal are looking for but we need a great deal of luck to get.

      That still doesn’t explain why Arsenal don’t buy more Girouds. Players like Bacca.

      We need backup. I mean literally any backup would be crucial to the start of the season.

      And so we are left back speculating.

      And I’m really just done speculating about stuff.

      • You know, I’ve never really brought this up before, but you keep saying Auba laughed off the idea of joining Arsenal. From what it looked like to me in the video, he was just laughing (not maliciously) at the circumstance, the question and with the subsequent reaction of the fan, rather than at the club. The idea was ludicrous not because it was Arsenal, but because it was only a media creation and one which he’d already refuted by saying he’s staying at Dortmund. Then this guy asks him, on an escalator of all places, whether he’s moving clubs.

        If it were one of our players, and he did the exact same thing, you wouldn’t think he’s laughing at another club.

        • I also did not get the impression that Aubameyang was laughing at Arsenal, but rather at the speculation itself. Who knows…

          Either way, I’m not sure I’m all that bothered. He’s young, his dream is to play for a tier 1 club, and we’re a tier 1.5 club. What we can say is that a player like Ozil did not laugh at us, and he is one of the best players in the world in his position. I’m a big fan of Tim’s writing, but I’m not sure “unceremoniously dumped” is a fair way to describe what happened. There were a lot of factors there, and Madrid’s decision was unpopular with players and fans alike. It should also be clear that a club’s decision to sell does not imply a lack of quality in the player, and this is especially true of clubs like Barcelona and Madrid, both of whom have shipped a lot of quality players over the years.

      • You’re right about the growing tedium of speculating why we aren’t doing what we should be doing. It used to feel like we had some grounds for informed speculation when we didn’t have the money (or when we were under the strong impression we didn’t), but now that we’re flush with cash, it’s just impossible to know what’s going on. Are we no longer an attractive option? Is Wenger too reticent? Is the board unwilling to part with cash? Have people overestimated our cash reserves? Is Kroenke an autocrat who just wants to keep things risk-free? Does the club really believe (as Gazidis absurdly claimed) that the current squad can win the title? Who bloody cares.

    • There is smoke and there may even be a fire but we will just have to wait and see hows things shake out. . We know how Arsenal work in that its mums the word until the ‘I’s’ are dotted and the ‘t’s are crossed and the faxes has been sent and the data entered in the transfer recording system at the FA. So of course the agent is going to deny contact because he could blow the deal by leaking info and giving Arsenal the impression he wants a bidding war. Reading the tea leaves though you have some strongly positive comments from Wenger about spending. We now have a second French journalist (Bilel Ghazi, L’Equipe) who supports Eurosport FR by saying he hears that the Mahrez transfer was heading in that direction (Arsenal bound). I am relaxed on Mahrez.
      Mahrez today scored his typical (L) footed curler to tie Celtic before Leicester went on to win on PK’s.

      Juventus is really stepping up their game with Higuain move but they will be praying that he hasn’t peaked at 28 and will now go down hill. at 28-30 yo, it becomes a very tight window to remain on form. RVP went to Man U in 2013 and in Turkey and off the NT in 2015. When you review the highest price transfers, they are littered with strikers who failed after their big money move because of injury or poor form.

  4. Excellent article.
    Fair play to Dan for providing a bit of insight. Goes to show opposing fans don’t have to be at each others throats all the time. I know nothing about Holding but he sounds like he could be a bargain at 2 million.

    I’ve tried not to get excited about the Mahrez transfer. Transfer news is so rarely legitimate that investing any sort of real hope in them is just asking for trouble. Obviously easier said than done. It’s just going to lead to lots of angry and disappointed Arsenal fans over the coming days if it’s not true. Then all that anger is going to be turned on the club and the manager regardless of whether there was any truth to it at all. Without wanting to add fuel to that fire, his agent saying they weren’t at the match to meet Arsenal seems like something that could be said to protect against accusations of taping up. I know hardly any teams take notice any more but I guess it’s still technically frowned upon by some.

    Regarding Ozil and Sanchez, I’ve seen a lot written recently that undercuts Arsenals acquisition of those players. While it’s impossible to argue they weren’t wanted by their respective clubs, the recent narrative seems to be that we almost couldn’t have helped BUT sign them or that they just fell into our laps. Ozil seems well regarded as one of the best creative players in the game and if Real didn’t want him surely we weren’t the only club interested. To be able to get a player like him is awesome in my opinion and I just don’t see why people feel the need to backhand compliment our acquisition of him. It’s like the narrative that people want to start now is that we only buy cast offs or unwanted players. I guess it’s just a bummer to see how quickly our dialogue around the acquisition of players like Ozil and Sanchez has changed from ‘oh my God, finally, some big name world class players, this is awesome’ to ‘sure we bought them but it’s only because their clubs didn’t want them, and replaced them with better players, and won more without them, what are you so excited about?’

    On a final note, I think you do yourself an injustice with your ‘angering readers since 2008’ tagline. I think pretty much everyone here enjoys your writing and your insight. Even if we disagree with you I think we all respect the work you put into the writing and the research. It’s your own choice for sure but if I could make a suggestion I think something like ‘statting up the internet since 2008’ would be kinder to you. Anyway, will continue to read regardless.

    Excellent article.
    Fair play to Dan for providing a bit of insight. Goes to show opposing fans don’t have to be at each others throats all the time. I know nothing about Holding but he sounds like he could be a bargain at 2 million.

    I’ve tried not to get excited about the Mahrez transfer. Transfer news is so rarely legitimate that investing any sort of real hope in them is just asking for trouble. Obviously easier said than done. It’s just going to lead to lots of angry and disappointed Arsenal fans over the coming days if it’s not true. Then all that anger is going to be turned on the club and the manager regardless of whether there was any truth to it at all. Without wanting to add fuel to that fire, his agent saying they weren’t at the match to meet Arsenal seems like something that could be said to protect against accusations of taping up. I know hardly any teams take notice any more but I guess it’s still technically frowned upon by some.

    Regarding Ozil and Sanchez, I’ve seen a lot written recently that undercuts Arsenals acquisition of those players. While it’s impossible to argue they weren’t wanted by their respective clubs, the recent narrative seems to be that we almost couldn’t have helped BUT sign them or that they just fell into our laps. Ozil seems well regarded as one of the best creative players in the game and if Real didn’t want him surely we weren’t the only club interested. To be able to get a player like him is awesome in my opinion and I just don’t see why people feel the need to backhand compliment our acquisition of him. It’s like the narrative that people want to start now is that we only buy cast offs or unwanted players. I guess it’s just a bummer to see how quickly our dialogue around the acquisition of players like Ozil and Sanchez has changed from ‘oh my God, finally, some big name world class players, this is awesome’ to ‘sure we bought them but it’s only because their clubs didn’t want them, and replaced them with better players, and won more without them, what are you so excited about?’

    On a final note, I think you do yourself an injustice with your ‘angering readers since 2008’ tagline. I think pretty much everyone here enjoys your writing and your insight. Even if we disagree with you I think we all respect the work you put into the writing and the research. It’s your own choice for sure but if I could make a suggestion I think something like ‘statting up the internet since 2008’ would be kinder to you. Anyway, will continue to read regardless.

    • Agree on the Ozil and Sanchez thing. It’s an odd narrative. If we’re discounting, or devaluing, their purchases, then we can’t talk about signing Henry or Bergkamp, both of whom were also cast-offs. Which then takes the away the narrative of how good we were in the transfer market before and how we suck now.

      Tim might have a point about those mid-level players that we aren’t getting, but I think it’s a combination between players having more options, but also us leaving that market space at the moment.

  5. Thanks for putting this together for your readers. I only heard about him a few weeks ago when I read somewhere we were interested and until now the only thing I knew about him was that he was a ball playing CB. I hope he gets a chance to play as a CB in our cup games.

    Is there any truth to these Mahrez rumors? I would be over the moon if it actually happens. Mkhitaryan and Mahrez were my top two choices to play on the right side (in that order).

    • Well, Mahrez’s agent says there’s no truth to the rumors, so make of that what you will. Personally, I think Arsenal just got used again to get a bumper deal for a Leicester player. Mahrez and Vardy are having a very good laugh, all the way to the bank.

  6. Great question on body-on-the-line shot-blocking. Every single on of our defenders is cowardly in this respect, notably Gibbs and Koscielny (an otherwise fine defender), in a way that John terry and Nemanja Vidic were not. Exhibit A, Koscielny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lZn3lWRkFI

    I like buys like Holding. They speak to the club’s timeless values, although our record of late in that age and experience range (Chambers, Jenkinson, Sanogo) has been spotty.

  7. I think what we are looking for in a CB is a combination Koscienly (recovery speed and taking the ball before it reaches attackers), the passing ability of Jerome Boateng and the grittiness of a Wes Morgan. No offense to Chambers but he has not shown any of those abilities yet and maybe Holding will be that guy. Chambers makes mistakes (eg. Lens game) and I doubt he will start against the MLS -Allstars.

  8. Based on the very short clips from Bolton, Rob Holding seems like he’s born to be a ball playing CB. Glad to see that Dan suggests the same. It’s exactly what Arsenal need once Per isn’t playing. Gabriel can’t play that role, nor can Koscielny. Might be a bit early for Holding, but seemingly he goes straight into the first team.

    Bielik looks like he’s got similar abilities too. It was very early in pre season, but Chambers made two errors with his heading. One at CB, which led to the goal, and another at RB. He was good going forward at RB though. What does this signing mean for Chambers? Loan? Or backup RB? Debuchy looked good in the first half v Lens (but let the striker run off him to score on the rebound) Was he playing for a transfer or is he going to stay?

    (By the way, SBnation is a really fun site. A good place to get a sense of where different fanbases stand. Even if it’s not a ‘local’ hangout)

  9. Sounds familiar. Not particularly fast. Very good positional sense. Oragnizes defense and is a leader.!! Per Mertesacker!!

    I like him already. Holding Chamber defense for the future set. And they have the right kind of people around to develop their talents, read Mertesacker and Steve Bould. Hope ARSENAL universe will be forgiving him for a few mistakes hez bound to make in his path of development.

  10. Let me add a tip of the hat to Dan as well. Excellent scouting report on a lad who has real potential to make a contribution to Arsenal (accent on potential of course).

    This piece also reminded of one of my greatest memories at Highbury: The Iceman in full “human highlight reel” scoring that thundershot against Bolton on the last day of the season to send us into the UEFA Cup. One of the best goals he – or anyone else – ever scored at Highbury and I was so fortunate to be there to go absolutely batshit crazy with the rest of the crowd.

    Bolton – thanks for the memories! And Bergkamp – you are and always be an Arsenal god.

  11. Rob’s been given squad number 16, so it looks as if he’s being fast tracked and will probably be one of the rotating central defenders. He’s already played with Chambers for the England U 21’s, although with both of them being right footed I don’t know who took the left spot. This will be Chambers third season and he’s at the age where if he’s going to make it he should be breaking into the side more regularly, but he hasn’t progressed at all.

  12. I know there’s been a desire for a new experienced centre back but I reckon this signing could work out pretty well. Kos has been pretty great. Per probably has another decent season in him. And Gabriel probably deserves at least another season to show he can be as good as we hoped he would be. With Chambers and Holding as back up we’re in decent shape for the next 12 months.

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