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After arriving for a mere £2m from Bolton, Rob Holding won the plaudits at Arsenal for his commanding performances and ability to play with the ball at his feet. Despite taking time to settle, Holding went on to make 18 appearances in his first season for Arsenal, many of which came post January, including a stand out FA Cup Final performance.
Less than a year after that incredible victory over Chelsea, Rob Holding looks set to leave Arsenal, with Burnley said to be ready to sign the young Englishman. Arsenal according to the report will sell if they receive a bid in excess of £15m. The move would see yet another talented defender arrive at Arsenal and fail under the tutelage of Arsene Wenger, despite initially hitting very high standards, highlighting once again that it is not the player, but the manager.
Over the last 22 years, few central defenders have thrived under the guidance of Wenger, with Adams, Keown, Campbell and Toure being the only real standout performers. Many top class defenders have come close – William Gallas, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker come to mind, but none of them hit the heights that they would have under another, more tactically astute manager.
Many will argue of Laurent Koscielny’s world class ability, quoting strikers like Lukaku who branded him the most difficult defender in the Premier League to play against, but the reality is, he hasn’t hit the level he could have under Wenger. With his natural defensive ability, Koscielny has improved with each passing season, but he has never ironed the mistakes out of his game that a defender of his age should have.
It’s not just Koscielny that makes schoolboy errors in an Arsenal shirt. Over the years, Gallas, Toure, Vermaalen, Mertesacker and Mustafi have suffered the same fate, committing the same individual mistakes that can have a disastrous effect on the team. Some will point at them being just that – individual errors – but, they are much, much more.
Arsenal are one of the few sides that repeatedly make the same defensive mistakes. And, to make it worse, they’ve been making the same mistakes for well over 10 years. You do not see teams like Chelsea, Manchester United or Tottenham making these errors. Individual mistakes are an anomaly and not common place.
These teams have well-oiled defences, and a midfield that track back, stay disciplined and protect their back four / three. Arsenal however, have been guilty of over committing for year, allowing teams to expose their defensive frailties on the counter. This has seen defender after defender exposed and ridiculed, with many failing to rejuvenate their careers after Arsene Wenger has defiled them.
Rob Holding is no exception to this. He is an excellent young defender with bags of talent, but he needs a mentor. Sean Dyche has a history of developing young defenders, Wenger doesn’t. This move could see him push on and really make an excellent career for himself, because unless Wenger leaves, he will not achieve that in North London.