This Arsenal Defender Could Become one of the Greatest the Club Has Ever Seen

(Editors Note: Long-time Gooner and regular contributor, retsub1, compares Rob Holding–quite favorably–to central defenders he has seen in the Arsenal shirt.  Enjoy.)

I have supported Arsenal for in excess of 50 years and during that time I have had the pleasure of seeing a fair number of, shall we say, not top quality centre backs.  In fact, I go back so far that when some of them played they were referred to as centre halfs.  This list would include such legends as Ian Ure, Gus Caeser, Andy Linighan, Igor Stepanovs, Pascal Cygan and Sebastian Squillaci.

On the flip side I have also had the pleasure of seeing some truly great centre backs.  My personal list would include:

Frank McLintock.  Purchased as a midfielder in 1964 for £80,000, which at the time was a club record, his initial time at Highbury was not particularly successful.  Although only 5′ 10,” he was converted to centre back where he proved a great success and went on to captain the team to their first double in 1971.  Particularly satisfying was the fact that the League was won at White Hart Lane that season.

McLintock was partnered by Peter Simpson who was signed as an apprentice in 1961.  For those not familiar with the term apprentice, it involved cleaning the senior players boots and living in guest houses with other young apprentices.  Simpson worked his way through the youth team and reserves before finally breaking into the first team.  In total, he was an Arsenal player for around 14 years and was a great servant to the club.  How he never played for England I will never understand, a very underrated player in my opinion.

David O’Leary was another product of the Arsenal youth scheme.  He signed for Arsenal in 1973 and made his full debut in 1975.  O’Leary was a classy defender and very comfortable on the ball.  He went on to make 722 appearances for Arsenal, surpassing George Armstrong’s record, during a very successful career.

Tony Adams: Mr Arsenal.  One of the true Arsenal greats, Adams spent 19 years at Highbury, having come through the youth set up, and, in my view, was the greatest captain I have had the pleasure of watching.  Despite well publicised drinking problems and a spell at Her Majesty’s pleasure, he played in excess of 500 times for Arsenal and won the First Division title four times, three of these–uniquely–in different decades.  A true Arsenal great, he has a statue outside the Emirates stadium in recognition of this.

Martin Keown.  Keown was another to have come through the Arsenal youth programme.  Having finally achieved first team status, Keown was sold to Aston  Villa for £200,000 and then to Everton before returning to Highbury seven years after he left, costing £2 million, 10 times what Arsenal sold him for.  Keown was a hard as nails centre back who took no prisoners.  He is fondly remembered by many Arsenal fans for jumping on Manchester United’s Ruud Van Nistelroy when he missed a penalty against us.

Steve Bould.  Bouldy joined Arsenal from Stoke City for £390,000 in 1988 and formed one of the truly great Arsenal defensive lines alongside Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams and Lee Dixon (stolen from Stoke City). He played nearly 300 games for Arsenal, scoring five goals, one of which was Arsenal’s first ever Premiership goal.

Sol Campbell.  Much to the delight of Arsenal fans and the hatred of Spurs supporters, Sol Campbell was stolen from Tottenham on a free transfer in 2001.  In nine years at Spurs he had won one League Cup winners’ medal.  In the following five seasons at Arsenal he won two League titles and two FA cup winners’ medals, one of which completed a domestic double.  He was also part of the famous Invincibles team.  His final contribution in his main stint at Arsenal–he later returned on a short contract as emergency cover–saw him score a headed goal in the Champions League final against Barcelona FC, a game where a 10 man Arsenal team held out until the last 10 minutes before two late Barcelona goals won the Catalans the trophy.

Kolo Toure.  Toure was signed from the Mimosa club in the Ivory Coast for the tidy sum of £150,000.  A hugely energetic player, Kolo played in a number of positions before settling in at centre back alongside Campbell.  He went on to play 225 games for Arsenal and was another member of the Invincibles team.  In 2009 he was sold to Manchester City for £14 million (how’s that for a return on investment) and went on to join an elite group of players who have won the Premiership with more than one team.

Apologies to the many other fine Arsenal centre backs I may have missed.  What’s interesting is that, with the exception of McLintock, most of these players came through the youth system or were purchased for relatively low transfer fees.  Two who came through the youth scheme stand out in my mind: Adams and O’Leary.  I remember both these players looking a little undernourished when they broke into the side, but both displayed a calmness and self belief which left me in no doubt that they were great players in the making.

I can honestly say I have not seen a young centre back display these attributes until the start of this season, when a certain Rob Holding, only 20 at the time, made his full debut against Liverpool.  Due to injuries and players being unavailable, Holding was paired with another inexperienced centre back, Callum Chambers.  Unsurprisingly, Arsenal were beaten in this match at the Emirates in a high scoring game.  Losing those three points would prove crucial at the end of the season as Liverpool claimed the fourth and final Champions League spot, just one point ahead of Arsenal.

Two seasons earlier, Arsenal were playing away at Swansea City with Chambers at right back.  In the second half, Swansea were able to overcome a 1-nil Arsenal advantage with Jefferson Montero playing a key role on the left wing.   It soon became apparent that Chambers couldn’t cope with Montero and he was ripped to shreds by the Ecuadoran, who played a big part in Swansea overcoming the deficit and winning 2 – 1.  Personally, I blamed manager Arsene Wenger for not providing Chambers with sufficient support.  To my mind, Chambers was never the same player after that and always looked nervous.  Hopefully a year on loan at Middlesbrough will have revived him.  If he has–and if Wenger chooses to recall him–he could go on to become a partner of Holding’s in one of the centre back positions.

Although we conceded four goals to Liverpool in that opening day match, giving up a 1-nil lead and eventually losing by a score of 4-3, l am sure I saw glimmers in Holding of the same qualities I had seen in Adams and O’Leary.  When he was eventually put in the first team squad late in the season, as Wenger switched to a three-at-the-back formation, he was a revelation.  Holding played fantastically well in those final games–and in several different positions across the back line–demonstrating a confidence way beyond his years.

Rob Holding cost the princely sum of £2 million, although with add-ons I understand this could rise to £10 million.  Either way, what a fantastic piece of business.  As well as displaying great defending and calmness on the ball, he won the heart of many a Gooner with his tough tackling on Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic, a player who had effectively ended Matthieu Debuchy’s Arsenal career by needlessly pushing him off the pitch back in 2015.  His stature amongst Gooners was further enhanced when he crunched Diego Costa in the recent FA Cup Final and expressed concerns about his mental state, Costa being a player who had so often bullied Arsenal defenders in the past.

When you consider that Manchester City payed around £50 million for John Stones, Rob Holding represents fabulous value for money.  If he remains robust and injury free, I have little doubt we are looking at a future Arsenal legend, and, possibly a future England Captain.

After all, he is already better than Cannavaro.

by retsub1

34 thoughts on “This Arsenal Defender Could Become one of the Greatest the Club Has Ever Seen

  • retsub,

    That’s a lovely,lovely post, I mean the stuff in there and the language. It all taste like Rob Holding, calm, composed. My impression is that you did write everything from memory. Incredible the vividness with which kids see things, that nearly fifty years after they remain as fresh in the memory as 24 hrs ago.

    Rob Holding is every coaches dream, a player who is good on both sides of the ball. Bielik is another one in the pipe line. I can’t wait for tomorrow. Poor Wenger, how is he ever going to be able to divorce himself from his dreams of tomorrow?

  • Thank you PE and Tai. P E you are correct I do tend to work from memory stats aside (which is why I sometimes get it wrong). However a very kind person (either TA or 17 HT ) has very kindly tidied up one or two facts and my grammar). They also go to great lengths to add excellent photos, so thanks guys it makes a big difference.

  • Retsub, that was one hell of a good post, I was with youall the way,
    but you left out Willie Young, Pat Howard, Steve Walford, Chris Whyte, William Gallas, Tommy Caton, Terry Mancini 😳, Jeff Blockley 😩, Colin Pates, blimey mate, that’s a rich vein you’ve tapped into, enough for another post… 😉

    Regarding previous post, many thanks 84 and 17tino, your sentiments are well appreciated and goes to show the decent people Total had attracted to this blog.

  • kev your memory is so much better than mine. Some of those names Blockley and. Whyte would definitely be in the dodgy character. pat Howard and Colin Pates are a little hazy in my mind. Gallas, although talented, Was one of my least favourite Arsenal players. I did consider Mancini but I met him one and he seemed like a nice guy. Not the most talented footballer, but his heading ability certainly helped save Arsenal from relegation. Tommy Caton who showed so much promise, but never quite delivered and sadLy died so young. And poor old Stevie Walford who scored the winning goal in a cup final, only to have his arm broken by Tony Adams celebrating at the end of the match.
    Kev I am sure this will be an easy question for you, but somebody asked me this the other day. When was the last time that Arsenal had three successive Scottish managers and who were they?

  • Retsub

    Great post! I agree about Holding! I think that while low cost youth and such are the right way, the scouting nowadays is so deep that finding such bargains is virtually impossible. Or close to it (Holding!) 🙂 … Even interest from Arsenal raises the price, which is just economically the way it is i guess.

    Anyway, yes TA, I’m alive, and that’s my 2p — jgc

  • Hey Retsub, that was me with the editing and a tiny bit of fact checking… 🙂 It was a privilege to do so…

    I’ve been watching the Arsenal for 11 seasons and in that time I’ve accumulated a pair of Arsenal shirts (both won in fantasy leagues 😀 …) and the two I’ve gotten were Sagna’s and Koscielny’s…
    What I’m suggesting is that my respect for defenders is immense and that I think those two were among the very best. Now that we appear to be matching salaries (or nearly, maybe…) of the silly money clubs, I really wish we’d have matched whatever Bacary Sagna got at ManCity and then played him as (at least) a second choice at CB and RB. Those several games where he played at CB were impressive, I thought. He would have thrived in a 3 CB back line, I think… Speaking of good buys, Wikipedia says Kos was bought for 8.45 million pounds(!)…

    I like that you focus in on those sorts of things. Of course, there are more misses than hits when it comes to recruitment (esp. at the bargain end…), but Arsenal, in my time at least, have done well enough… As I always say, these days we are 4th in spending in England so fans need to accept that as our natural level. This year we fell short and maybe those extra points would’ve come our way if we’d not negotiated so long over Mustafi (another fine one and still very young, IMO, but costly, of course). Hell, his price may have gone UP due to our struggles in the opener and our increased “need” for a ready to go central defender…

    If we’re talking defenders (in my time) who cost us a lot of points you can’t look past the Swiss duo of Djourou and Senderos. They looked good enough when they played occasionally, but were quite far from ever making the leap to the first 11. Sylvestre (along with Squillaci) was so past it that he never really got enough minutes to truly lose us *that* many points…

    Anyhow, great post–and I hope you’re right about Holding (and I think you might be)… Keep ’em coming… After TA’s apology to Santi (though I’m awfully worried he’ll never play again…) yours to Xhaka (or Ozil, assuming he extends his contract…) would be another I’d be pleased to edit… 😉

  • Thanks 17HT very kind of you. Writing another one on Ozil? Hmmm I have to honest and say that I am still not totally convinced by him. On his day he is an extremely talented player and a wonderful attruibute to the team. But then on other days he just seem to go awol to me. I know everyone has off days, but for whatever reasons he just seemed to go off the boil for a number of matches. In my opinion ( and l appreciate I am in the minority) any other player (excluding Alexis ) would have been dropped. It’s almost as if they have a clause saying they must play

  • Ok Retsub, this is off of the top of my bonce, but I reckon it could be :
    George Graham
    Stewart Houston
    Bruce Rioch.

  • Other famous Scots to manage Arsenal:
    Thomas Mitchell
    Frank Kelso,
    both a bit before my time. 😃

  • 17tino, great points on Sagna, I think he regularly played across the back-four when at Auxerre.
    He was great in the air as well for someone not that tall, in fact as we see Monreal we could have seen Bacary.

  • Well that is a masterpiece on Arsenal defenders, Retsub. A joy to read and great pictures by Seventeenho (and clever title too). I reckon a CB needs a great partner to become very good. Once they are paired up rightly they will go from strength to strength. Holding is a very promising talent and I hope you are right that he will one day be included in your illustrious bunch of CB beasts.

  • Kev, sorry to hear you got so close to all that pain and horror. Feel like giving you a hug all the way from Edinburgh to Euston. Keep on trucking buddy.

  • Good to hear from you Geoffski ⚽️😍

    And good to hear from heheheheHenry too. How’s Yoona da Goona? 😀⚽️

    Early start, so night night 🌝

  • Only just reading Kev’s experience of the terror show on London bridge and environs. Glad to know you came to no harm. All I can say is stay safe, man. It’s a crazy world out there, these days.

    It could have been anyone; I would usually take long walks along that location with the wife, whenever I am in the city as a tourist. She even reminded me it was her regular commute while she studied for an MBA in a “campus” of the Greenwich School of management (University of Hull), located around the area.

    May the bereaved families receive the strength to bear their loss(es).

  • Thanks fellas, there was a subdued atmosphere in London yesterday, the usual aggressiveness you get, especially on the road, was absent.
    I stayed out late and around Covent Garden, which is always busy, even on a Monday, most of the bars and restaurants looked empty to me.
    How this all plays out and influences the General Election this Thursday is going to be interesting.

    Thanks again guys.

  • Great post retsub.

    Tony adams is my favourite player and I love a good CB or defensive midfielder. Like TA I think a defender is only as good as their partner. Holding is an absolute gem and hasn’t look out of place since his debut in the pre-season games. I’d really like to see Koz, Must, and Holding given a go as the starting back 3.

    I still can’t believe we got him for pennies. CB’s have been overpriced for eons (especially English one’s). I haven’t seen a bargain like this since Kompany signed for City (6 million if my memory serves me correctly). Hopefully Holding turns out to be just as good. He’d look really good passing the ball out of defense to Mbappe!

  • Hi all..
    My favourite CB is Campbell, Toure and Koscielny..
    I hope Holding and Calum Chambers will stay for long, to be the best England CB next 5-10 years..

    Sead Kolasinac guys.. Welcome abroad..
    A great LB, can play as CB and DM.
    Very strong and also speedy player.. I love him already.. his pass is great also..
    I hope we will have the best defenders next season..

    So all we need is a Strikers..
    If Ibra knock the door.. I will be happy enough to have two free transfer guys in my team.. hehehehe..

  • Lovely piece retsub1! Looking at Arsenal’s squad I’d argued that Arsenal’s strongest position in terms of quality and depth at this point in time is the centreback position. Assuming Arsenal maintain a 3421 setup next season, Arsenal’s centreback options include:

    – Chambers
    – Gabriel
    – Holding
    – Koscielny
    – Mertesaker
    – Monreal
    – Mustafi

    Looking at the individual performances of those players over the past couple of seasons, particularly in terms of their KPIs (tackles, interceptions, blocks and aerial duels), the pecking order in my view is:

    1. Mustafi
    2. Koscielny
    3. Monreal
    4. Gabriel
    5. Holding
    6. Chambers
    7. Mertesaker

    On that basis and considering Wenger’s decision to not regularly and systematic rotate his top 22 players, I think Holding and Chambers may find game time quite limited next season.

    In terms of their further development, that’s a concerning prospect. As we’ve seen many times with talented and emerging youngsters, game time is an absolute must for them to continue their growth.

    For that reason, I actually think Holding, as well as Chambers, would benefit more from being loaned out next season to a club where they will be virtually guaranteed game time as a CB, than spending the whole of next season training with the first team and sitting on the bench match after match.

    For Arsenal that would mean the club would need to recruit at least one experienced and proved CB (e.g. Perrin) to serve along side Gabriel and Mertesaker as backup to Mustafa, Koscielny and Monreal.

    Doing so would allow Chambers and Holding to continue to develop, until such time as prospective starting CB roles at Arsenal emerged, without Arsenal diminishing the quality of the club’s centreback contingent.

  • So, it is apt to say “welcome to Arsenal, Sead Kolasinac”. Since this thread is about defenders…..
    Someone must have been listening (reading?) at Arsenal because it was in February when I first mentioned him on here as someone we must go for, after seeing how he made Arjen Robben toothless in a game between schalke and Bayern (I believe it ended in a draw at the Allianz Arena).

    Hopefully, he doesn’t disappoint and goes on to have a great career here.

  • Fitting that this post coincided with the arrival of Kolasinac,
    Yes, if Holding is used, abeit sparingly, to avoid fatigue and injuries, he will be a good player at Arsenal.

    Like Adams, he likes to venture forward. I remembered seeing a video of Adams running upfield and scoring. That is the mark of the Arsenal way (total football), and he is one for the long-term.


  • Holding has that in him. You can see he is confident venturing forward, but gets restricted by his primary duties and senior players counselling him. When he becomes a sure starter, we should see more of those upfield runs; they were a key feature of YouTube clips of him when he was first linked.

  • Seems like most folks–like me–took the day off yesterday but we’ve got a few new comments as I wake up this morning… Are folks busy or maybe more focused on real world life/events? Kev’s experience at the Thames certainly puts things in perspective… I know TA continues very busy and warm weather around here makes me that way too. Maybe we just need a breather?

    Indeed ‘Eris, we have a new defender, even if I don’t remember you mentioning him back in February. The small bits I’ve read about Kolasinac make him seem like he’s more of a physical battering ram than the technical sorts AW has tended to favor. Since you know him best maybe you should write a post about him… Also, sorry about dropping our back and forth about Kroenke last week… Your optimism seems at odds with just about everything I know about him as a sports owner but that’s just my take. A post about him could also be a good one…

    Getting back to Kolasinic… His acquisition makes Waldo’s comment that we should be looking at other CBs (like 31 yr old Perrin…) all the stranger, but then again I know nothing about (football) KPIs which I assume is some sort of statistical accumulator rating that somebody has come up with. I’m not a big believer in stats in the more fluid team sports, but that’s just me, and football with its low scoring (and such slim margins between those events) seems the most difficult of all. IMO, to create a great team, individual stats aren’t very important and will certainly suffer as players sacrifice to the collective goal… you know, winning… For a fine example, see the Golden State Warriors, who play are playing the very best basketball the planet has ever seen (and go again tonight vs probably the greatest individual player the game has ever produced)…

    To my mind, if we play with 3 at the back, the losers will be Gibbs (already gone to Toonies?) and Waldo’s fave, Debuchy (off to Leicester?) while Chambers could likely get a chance given Gabriel’s biggish injury. To me, no matter what the stats might say, Gabby is the one whose confidence seems much more hit and miss than Rob Holding’s. Defenders will make mistakes that lead to goals (and face the ire of unforgiving fans); it’s how they manage those things, confidence wise, that seems most important… I’ll never forget Gibbs being at fault for giving up that early goal to Manchester United in the CL semis (and then needing to be subbed out) whereas it appears that Kolasinac has a famous one himself (OG in the WC vs Argentina…) that didn’t seem to faze him too badly…

    So, write some posts (or more comments). I’ve got to make hay while the sun shines (as we say…) and save myself to watch the baloncesto (basketball) which seems more fun than twisting my hands into a knot over the M’bappe world record bid(s), which (or both) of Ozil or Alexis we’re gonna lose (Alexis, only, please…) and the players we could realistically replace them (or him) with (Mahrez, Lacazette), etc., etc… though that stuff could make for some posts as well…

    Happy Hump Day (do people use that term–for Wedsnesday–in other parts of the world?)…

  • 17ht, Lol. Saw the man in a couple of games and now, I am an expert to do an article on him? Nah!!

    Refer to TA’s article titled: TIME TO BENCH ALEXIS AND GIVE PEREZ THE LW POSITION (7th February, 2017). I posted as follows (thought he was Serbian, at the time though, in my excitement):

    Goonereris says:
    February 8, 2017 at 18:56
    I know it isn’t the time for it yet but I saw a report suggesting we may be in for Sead Kolasinac (Schalke 04), the Serbian full back, who I only ever watched play last week. If it is true that we are, we must absolutely go for him.

    I watched him in the Bayern v Schalke game and he kept Arjen Robben quiet while also bombing forward to good effect. He is aggressive, strong, skillful and very quick. He is no nonsense, to my mind, the kind of full back I will like to see at the club.

  • Thanks for all the comments. Have a busy day today driving around listening to Ray Parlours book. He got fined 2 weeks wages so many times, it’s a wonder he ever earned a Salary.

    Just reached the part where George Graham got sacked for taking a bung from player transfers. I knew one of the players involved was John Jenson who had scored a fantastic goal for Denmark, which from memory won them the European championships ( sure someone will correct me if I am wrong! But it does get annoying googling everything). I used to go to Highbury a lot at that time and Jensen couldn’t hit a barn door from 2 paces. He still managed to play a huge amount of games before he finally scored. Every time he got the ball the crowd yelled “Shoot” and then ran for cover behind the goal. The reason I mention this is because another player involved in the bung was another Leg end of a centre back Pal Lyderson (did you forget that one Kev)

    Waldo. Thanks for your comments and analysis. One thing that I am pretty sure won’t happen is Holding going out on loan. Although he has what maybe a nasty injury I actually think that Gabriel could develop into quite a decent player. He was immense in the semi final and if he can get a level of consistency going it wiould be great. Interesting to see what happens with Mertesaker, who was an absolute hero in the final.

    17HT. The hump is certainly a common term in London as ids POETS day, which I am sure you will be familiar with

  • ‘Eris, you should write a post of one sort or another even if you want to skip out of Kolasinac… Like I say, I know TA is busy and I’m busy enough that I should be out getting stuff done instead of commenting here (right now at least)…

    Retsub, we do not use poets day over here (TGIF–thank god it’s Friday is as creative as we get, sadly…) but I like it…

  • Old timer, Oz Gunner wrote a comment (above) that had to be “approved” before posting… Don’t miss it… Welcome back, Oz. Where’ve you been? Whatcha been up to?… Further comments should go through now…

    For those too lazy to scroll up, here’s what he wrote:

    Oz Gunner wrote:

    Great post retsub.

    Tony adams is my favourite player and I love a good CB or defensive midfielder. Like TA I think a defender is only as good as their partner. Holding is an absolute gem and hasn’t look out of place since his debut in the pre-season games. I’d really like to see Koz, Must, and Holding given a go as the starting back 3.

    I still can’t believe we got him for pennies. CB’s have been overpriced for eons (especially English one’s). I haven’t seen a bargain like this since Kompany signed for City (6 million if my memory serves me correctly). Hopefully Holding turns out to be just as good. He’d look really good passing the ball out of defense to Mbappe!

  • Yes welcome back Oz. Yes Tony Adams was a great player, one of my favourites as well. I really do see something special in Holding and as you say, good ones are a very rare animal.

  • Hey Retsub, you’ve got mail… (As they used to say…)

    Others (well, Pony Eye at least..) seem to be getting into the post writing too, so there could be a bit of a queue… 😀

    It shouldn’t be too much of a problem and I’m glad to see that folks seem excited about developments at our club…

    While we’re on the subject of defenders, however, I think Mustafi had a pretty strong first season under fairly difficult circumstances–having to step into some big F-ing shoes and, often enough, having to play w/o Koscielny… For awhile folks were enjoying the “never beaten with Mustafi in the line-up,” but, of course, that ended, so turning on him (and everybody else…) seemed more like the thing to do… Though it maybe gave Holding (and the BFG) a chance to shine, it seems harsh on him (and Kos…) that he wasn’t able to play in the cup final… Overall, we’ve got some quality back there, IMO, and maybe a bit more with the new guy…

  • New Post!!!

    Pony Eye analyzes our league stats to suggest that one player can make a HUGE difference but that switching formations might also be a solution if that player is unavailable. Coaching philosophies also play their role… AND, it’s only Part 1 of a two-part series…

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