Mikel Arteta can solve key Rob Holding issue as path to Arsenal rebirth is made clear

Rob Holding’s performance against Watford on the final day of the Premier League season summed up his 2019/20 campaign at Arsenal – inconsistent.

While there were moments in which he truly stood out in the backline as the most assured defender, there were moments when his presence was very nearly detrimental to the side.

One passage of play that demonstrated this fully came during Watford’s attacking spell early in the first half. Given the ball on his own byline, Holding looked up for a team-mate to pass to and elected to ping the ball out to Kieran Tierney at left-back. It was the right decision but his pass soared out of play. Seconds later, he made a great block from point blank range to stop a Troy Deeney header flying past Emi Martinez.

These contrasting spells continued throughout the game as he sprayed pinpoint passes in behind for Alexandre Lacazette, only to have moments of doubt when misreading the flight of balls into the box. On the whole, his performance wasn’t terrible, but the inconsistencies shown replicated those that have occurred throughout the season.

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Especially before lockdown, Holding struggled for regular game time, which had it’s effect on him when finally on the pitch. Returning from his awful ACL injury in September, he had to wait for cup games to get his minutes, only to suffer a setback in November. He would only play three more first team games before football was halted in March and his rustiness was evident.

Similar traits were evident in his game as he would choose the wrong moments to release the ball at times only to recover pretty well. The real problem wasn’t a lack of quality, just a lack of rhythm as he made similar mistakes in regard to timing when playing for the Under-23s at this time.

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For the most part, however, he has looked like a player that has benefited from the three-month break before football’s return. Returning to the starting XI against Brighton and Southampton, he made a strong impression in both games. Especially against the Saints [June 25], he was very proactive in defence, matching anything Ralph Hassenhuttl’s side tried, whether it was in the air or on the floor, Holding was ready to intervene.

Winning man of the match for his outstanding display at St. Mary’s, the 24-year-old’s next start wouldn’t come until July 15 against champions, Liverpool.

Earlier in the season, the sparseness of Holding’s appearances took a toll. Playing just five first team games between November and March, there was no chance Arsenal were going to see the centre-back that had not lost a single game he played before his injury in the 2018/19 season. The same can be said now after being brought back into the starting XI after almost three weeks out but as explained by Dr. Rajpal Brar in June, these returns are as much mental as they…