What To Do With this Beast of an Arsenal CB: Play, Loan, Sell, Squad Player?

 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 when some of them played they were referred to as Centre halfs.  This list would include such legends as Ian Ure, Andy Linighan, Igor Stepanovs, Gus Caesar, Sebastian Squillaci and Pascal Cygan. 

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, but although only 5 foot 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.

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 normally 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 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 Majesties pleasure.  He played in excess of 500 times for Arsenal and won the 1st Division title four times, 3 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 7 years after he left and costing £2 million, 10 times more than for what they had 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 Ruud Van Nistelrooy who had just 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 defenders along With Nigel Winterburn, Tony Adams and Lee Dixon (also stolen from Stoke). He played nearly 300 games for Arsenal, scoring 5 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 Spurs 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 F A cup winners medals, encompassing a double.  He was part of the famous Invincibles team.  He also scored a headed goal in the Champions League Final against Barcelona where a 10-man Arsenal held out until the last 10 minutes before two late Barcelona goals won them the trophy.

Kolo Toure. Toure was signed from the Mimosa club in the Ivory Coast for the princely sum of £150,000.  A hugely energetic player, Kolo played in a number of positions before settling in at centre back alongside Sol Campbell.  He went on to play 225 games for Arsenal and was part 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 number of players who have won the Premiership with more than one team.

Apologies to anyone I may have missed.  What’s interesting is many of these players came through the youth system or were purchased at relatively low transfer fees.   Two of these players 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 displaying a calmness and self-belief which left me in no doubt they were great players in the making.

I can honestly say I have not seen a young centre back display these attributes until a few seasons ago, when a certain young Rob Holding 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 4 -3 at the Emirates with the loss of three points, which would prove crucial later in the season.   The previous season Arsenal were playing away at Swansea with Chambers playing at right back.  Leading one nil. Swansea bought Montero on as a substitute left winger.   It soon became apparent that Chambers couldn’t cope with Montero and he was ripped to shreds with Swansea  winning 2 – 1, with Montero playing a key part.  Personally, I blamed Wenger for not providing Chambers with sufficient support.   To my mind Chambers was never the same player after that and always looked nervous.

Although we conceded four goals to Liverpool that day, having gone  1 – 0 up shortly before half time.  l am sure I saw glimmers of that same quality I had seen in Adams and O’Leary.  When he was eventually put in the first team squad late in the season, Holding was a revelation.  He played fantastically well in all those games demonstrating a confidence way beyond his youth.  Rob Holding cost the princely sum of £2 million, although with add ons I understand this was to 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 tacking on Arnoutovic, a player who had effectively ended Matthieu Debuchy’s  Arsenal Career by needlessly pushing him off the pitch.  This was further enhanced when he crunched Diego Costa in the 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 Manchester City played around £50 million for John Stones.  Rob Holding represents fabulous value for money.  I was convinced that if he remained robust and injury-free we would be looking at a future Arsenal legend and possibly a future England Captain. 

But, although Rob is still at Arsenal he seems to be missing out on the role and importance I had in mind for him. I still believe he has it all but whether this will come to fruition at Arsenal remains to be seen. I am curious what his next step will be:

  1. Fight for a place in the first team;
  2. Become an Elneny-like squad player;
  3. Go out on-loan and play a large number of games this season;
  4. Move on from Arsenal for definite.

What do you think?

By Retsub.

30 thoughts on “What To Do With this Beast of an Arsenal CB: Play, Loan, Sell, Squad Player?

  • Super Post, Retsub.

    I don’t go back as far as you do, but many a defender you mentioned in your post is very dear to me. We have been blessed with fine defenders and under Arsene we had both some very good ones and some poor ones. Over time they got less and less protection as we played a very attacking game. It is much easier to be a good defender if the team sits back and absorbs, like the poor Spuds are doing under the Conte. But to be good in seas of space is much, much harder. I think that Sol is my all time favourite CB, one that would still flourish now if he was the same age as when he joined us.

    I like Rob a lot and I think he knows himself well. I think he has accepted the ‘Elneny’ role in defence. Do a job when needed and play in the cup games a lot.

  • Great post Retsub, some fantastic defenders you named there, I remember them all.

    As for Sir Rob I think he’s at the best place he can be right now, he’s a vital piece of the jigsaw and I’m sure I heard the Ashburton Army singing a song in his honour when he came on Saturday, well merited imo.

  • Fine post, Retsub. Of the defenders you’ve gone down (your) memory lane to name, my favourite(s) would be the pair of Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell, who marshalled the defense in the 2003/2004 Invincibles season. Of course, it was collective job but those two just never liked to be on a losing side and seemed to have personal bets to make the most blocks and headed clearances.

    I am a fan of Rob Holding; always been. While I feel he deserves more than he is getting here at the Arsenal, I love him for being humble and a team player who knows he is not as good as those in front of him, but understands/accepts his role as a kind of “insurance” policy, should there be injuries/suspensions to those in front of him in the pecking order. He is a fast learner too and aside from one occasion I can remember when he started and tried too hard to play like the boss demanded, making a right mess of his forward drives each time, he has always held his own. There was also the May 2022 North London Derby where he made back to back fouls to cop a red card for “elbowing” Son Heung-min (never an elbow, for me; just good acting on the part of the scum, Son) barely 20 minutes into the game. The passion of the occasion and his interpretation of some instructions he must have received to keep Son quiet….

    A good team player, who should remain for as long as he wants. Every club needs them.

  • As for paying £50m for Stones; United paid £80m for Harry Maguire and even gave him the club’s arm band, for Chrissakes!

    Rob is a bargain, by all standards.

  • Fine post Retsub, it was refreshing to read about our defenders especially our Invincible defenders. I’ve always liked Rob Holding and when he plays he rarely lets us down.

    I remember reading this quote from Arsene Wenger.

    “When I first came to Arsenal, I realized the back four were all university graduates in the art of defending. As for Tony Adams, I consider him to be a doctor of defense. He is simply outstanding.”

  • Thanks guys appreciate your comments. I did actually write this about 3 years ago. I think ,Rob was on a high then and May have fallen down the pecking order somewhat. Fingers crossed he will get more opportunities.

  • These are the results from last weekend:-

    1st Madhu with 5/6 plus 4 bonus points = 9 points
    2nd GN5 with 4/6 & OX10 with 2/6 plus 1 correct score = 4 points
    4th LEGALL with 3/6 – 3 points
    5th Total, Eris & Kev with 2/6 = 2 points
    8th Stuart with 1/6 = 1 point
    Season to date:-

    1st OX10 with 22.00
    2nd Kev with 20.00
    3rd Madhu with 17.00
    4th Total with 16.33
    5th Stuart with 16.00
    6th Eris & GN5 with 15.33
    8th LEGALL with 12.00


  • Next weekends selections:-

    Chelsea v West Ham
    Newcastle United v Crystal Palace *
    Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham
    Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City
    Manchester United v Arsenal *
    Celtic v Rangers *

  • Hey Kev

    Just to clarify, The Ashburton Army is the group dressed in Black (the noisy lot) over by the corner flag at the North Bank?

    One of the the disadvantages of moving to the Emirates, was that many of the North Bank (Highbury) we’re split up be seating at the Emirates. This group virtually stand up for the whole match and add a great atmosphere and have done for many years now.I had never heard of the Asburton Army until recently.

  • I’ve always liked Rob Holding. I think he would be a better partner to William Saliba than Gabriel, who is far too clumsy. Just rewatch the latest game vs Fulham. Glad for him, though, for the late revenge (2-1).
    If not talking to Emery purchasing Pau Torres, Arteta should play Holding along side Saliba.

  • What a great post this comprehensive study of Arsenal CBs is, retsub, thanks a lot.
    I’d have had nothing against a mention of The Kos. On a good day he was a CF worst nightmare
    As for Rob, his career in the red-and-white might have turned out differently, were it not for Rashford’s cowardly tackle that ruled our lad out for so long, and which it took so long to him to fully recover from
    Rob, just like Lolo, was born to defend, the “heading” part of his game should be in all academies’ textbooks for rookie CBs, but he has also dramatically improved his passing over the years
    He’s very close to MA’s first-choice back-3, and given the insanity of the 2022-2023 schedule, his time is bound to come, very likely after the Oil Cup, since he’ll be the only one of the 4 not to have fried under the desert sun. And when his time does come, he’ll be solid as a rock, as reliable and happy-go-lucky as ever. What a lad.

  • Yes Retsub, I know all about the Ashburton Army etc, during the lockdown period the club allowed existing season ticket holders to transfer their tickets to the people who were actually using them, therefore I transferred my two tickets, which I hadn’t used regularly since 2007, to my eldest son and his mate, the people who had used them since my illness, therefore their names are now on my two ex-tickets, but I believe a lot more older fans like myself gave up their tickets altogether – lockdown affected us all in many differing ways, I know of a couple who did and now happily watch the games on TV, many of those tickets have probably gone to younger fans and has probably had a beneficial effect on the atmosphere at the stadium by injecting all that youthful energy we currently see…

  • Thanks TA, i missed a weekend prediction and catching up 😜. Prediction for next set
    Chelsea v West Ham H
    Newcastle United v Crystal Palace * 2-1
    Tottenham Hotspur v Fulham H
    Brighton & Hove Albion v Leicester City H
    Manchester United v Arsenal * 1-3
    Celtic v Rangers * 2-1

  • Thanks for the prompt report, GN5. It should get even more exciting this season.

    Good job, Madhu. To think you played with a disadvantage makes your position even more deserving of kudos.

  • I know Holding could start for most teams in the league. He should stay right where he is though. A solid 4th choice CB….
    …… but, with the 3 in front of him playing most games (White at rb) .. there’s a good chance he’ll be needed for some stretches in a long season. Would be different if White were sitting in front of him on the bench.

  • Mixed messages: Ornstein reports that Elneny is injured and could be out for awhile, premierinjuries.com have Elneny down as a hamstring strain?

  • Thanks for the post Retsub. I would have Kos, Tommy V and Per mentioned in there, too. And what of that big centre back bloke who we signed from Tottenham, no not Sol, but the red headed Scotsman, Willie Young. He sorted out Joe Jordan in the ’79 five minute final, blotted his copybook somewhat in the following years final, but still managed 19 goals in 236 games for us.

  • Thanks Kev
    Are they supposed to wear black? I saw quite a group at the front who looked ready for a funeral.

    Anonymous yes agreed Al l good names. Didn’t Willie Young take out Paul Allen, who was just about to become the youngest player ever to score in the West Ham final!. Amazingly he only got booked.

  • Retsub, I have no idea where the black t-shirts idea came from but I guess wearing our 2nd shirt can do the trick.

  • Hi Retsub
    Somehow my post went out under “Anonymous”.
    Indeed it was big Willie who took out Paul Allen, that is what I alluded to.
    Kev, I think the Ashburton Army are wannabe kiwi’s whose second love are the All Blacks.

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