12th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
Since joining Arsenal for £2million last month, it's been extremely encouraging to see how well Rob Holding's adapted to life at his new home.
Although excitement surrounding the 20-year-old must, of course, be tempered with him only featured in preseason matches so far, he has, however, still made an overwhelmingly positive impression since debuting against the MLS All Stars. In that particular game, the way he dealt with one of Arsenal's former nemesis', in the form of Didier Drogba, was a real highlight of the Gunners' 2-1 win.
After the match, the Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger, was full of praise for the debutant and also noted how well he's already settling in, stating: "He's adapted surprisingly. In a very good way, because he reads the game well and understands what's going on, anticipates well.
"And that's a quality at such a young age that you do not find a lot."
Another solid outing against Chivas, in a match where he even got himself on the scoresheet, and then a comfortable showing against Viking followed, which saw him continue his wonderful start at the club.
Arsenal's match against Pep Guardiola's Manchester City was always going to be a huge challenge for him, but, to his credit, he coped admirably well against the talented, multi-dimensional City attack.
Charged with marking one of the finest centre forwards in world football, Sergio Aguero, he, for the most part, did a great job blanketing the little genius. Although Holding had to take his share of the blame when Aguero got in behind him to coolly tap home Raheem Sterling's delightful cross on 30 minutes, it wasn't entirely his fault. Nonetheless, he would've learnt a valuable lesson that when playing against such an enormously gifted striker like Kun Aguero if you make just one small error, you'll be punished for it.
Aside from this moment of disappointment, his display was essentially bereft of mistakes. His positioning was sound, plus he showcased that terrific awareness, concentration and anticipation that's already endeared him to his manager.
Importantly, whenever a teammate needed assistance, his ability to read the play and identify danger early ensured he was always on hand to help out. Whether by covering in behind his right-back, Hector Bellerin, jetting across to support his centre defensive partner, Gabriel, or by tracking runners from deep, Holding consistently bailed his colleagues out.
By making thoughtful decisions and never over committing himself into his challenges, this served as another glowing tribute to his maturity and understanding of the game. In addition, the way he elegantly passed the ball out from the back, alongside his hulking strength and aerial prowess, provided further reasons for optimism for the Arsenal faithful.
Upon listening to Holding speak about the idols he's tried to replicate and mould his game around, it's clear from watching him how successfully he's taken on board some of their respective traits. "Growing up, I liked to think I modelled my game on Rio Ferdinand, especially when he was with Nemanja Vidic at Man United," he explained.
"I also watched Arsenal & they had the likes of Adams, Campbell & Keown who are all top-drawer centre halves that I admired."
While last season's Player of the Year for Bolton still has plenty of improving and fine tuning to do before he reaches the same level as his heroes, working under the guidance of Wenger will give him a fantastic chance to potentially one day get there.
The fact he's come so far in his development at such a young age and come through the many challenges the Championship posed him last term is a sign that bodes well for his future too. His manager at Bolton last season, Neil Lennon, was quick to lavish praise on his former pupil and express what an exceptional prospect he is upon hearing the news of his Arsenal move. "He's an excellent player and he has a great future. He's a good teammate. He's quite tall, he's strong and he has a lot of quality. It's not easy to show that in the centre of defence," he gleamed.
"Coaches in England like tall, physical players at the back, and tall players don't usually have as much technical quality as shorter ones, but Rob is a complete defender.
"He can play in any position in defence. He sees things clearly and he is very mature for his age, which is really what you want. It didn't help that everything went badly for the team last season, but Rob has a lot of personality for a young player. I think teams like that."
With Arsenal enduring a major defensive injury crisis, which sees Per Mertesacker and Gabriel out injured, plus Laurent Koscielny not ready to play after his exertions with France at the Euros, Holding looks set to test his vast talents against Liverpool this weekend in Arsenal's season opener.
I'm sure he couldn't think of a better way to cap off his incredible start to life at Arsenal than by making his Premier League debut in front of a sell out home crowd at the Emirates. And you can guarantee he'll do everything in his power to undertake his role to the best of his ability to help Arsenal get a valuable three points.
His terrific attitude, composure and maturity that belies his tender years should see to it.
More football articles at Licence to Roam.
Rob Holding Makes a Strong Start for Arsenal
12th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.