Tag Archives: rob holding

Unai Emery’s developing a new “British Core” at The Arsenal

December 2012, London was floating in a post-Olympic boom. Arsenal announced new contracts for 5 young British players.

Carl Jenkinson, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as signed a new contract on the same day (in front of the cameras at least). The message was clear.

After years of Arsenal being the foreign legion of English football; the future was English (and Welsh, like the cricket team). Theo Walcott made it a Dirty Dozen of talented players under 25-years-old.

The success for Arsenal based on the British core; and success for England would surely be built around 5 of the 6 players.

Roll forward to 2019 and, with Aaron Ramsey set to leave on a free transfer, only one man remains. Carl Jenkinson. I wonder what odds you would have got back in 2012 that the former Charlton trainee would outlast his more talented colleagues.

In the cup competitions this season, the League Cup, Europa League and last weekend in the FA Cup, Unai Emery has given a whole host of young players a chance.

It may still be early, but Emery is developing his own British Core.

Emery inherited two first team British players in Rob Holding and Alex Iwobi.

Prior to his injury, Holding was Arsenal’s most improved player this season. He has been sorely missed since his injury, testament to his development. He has put himself into contention to be long term first choice centre back. The talk amongst many is that we now need to buy Holding a partner. We no longer need to buy two starting central defenders.

Whilst he now plays for Nigeria, the country of his birth, Iwobi is certainly British.

Born in Lagos, he moves to London at the age of 4. Now 22, he has spent 18 years in the capital. His London twang and swagger. He is as much a Londoner as he is a Nigerian. He has paved the way for the flood of further Londoners coming through.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles has now been in and around the first team for a couple of seasons. In recent weeks he has shown his quality and utility. Playing left back, right back, central midfield and on the wing. Still just 21, he has a future for Arsenal and England as a James Milner-type utility man.

A whole host of other youngsters have also got game time in the cup competitions.

Eddie Nketiah was unlucky not to get a hat trick against Blackpool in the FA Cup. Anyone that has watched him at youth level would have been surprised by his misses. He is a clinical finisher.

With Danny Welbeck set to leave at the end of this season, expect Nketiah to lead the line in the cup competitions next season.

Whilst Nketiah missed his chances yesterday, Joe Willock scored two.

The youngster stalled last season, and struggled in his senior games. This season he has gone from strength to strength, and now has 3 goals in his 3 senior games.

He is developing into a box to box midfielder, becoming a very smart player able to get forward and back at speed. His ability to find space in the box reminds you of Aaron Ramsey. Should Arsenal replace the Welshman from within?

Currently returning from injury is Emile Smith Rowe. He has been the standout youngster of this season. A classy attacking player who can play in all 3 positions behind the front 3, he has a big future at Arsenal.

Dropping down an age group now is two very talented kids.

Bukayo Saka could be the best of the lot. Just 17-years-old, he has pace, power and technique.

Arsenal should consider sending him down a similar route as Reiss Nelson. A year in Germany getting plenty of game time, he would come back a different player. This lad is going to be quality.

Finally we have Zech Medley.

I have been frustrated that during Arsenal’s defensive injury crisis, Emery has gone for Granit Xhaka and Stephan Lichsteiner in defence rather than give a chance to 18-year-old Medley.

Medley, like Nketiah, was on the books of Chelsea before joining Arsenal at 16-years-old. He looks to have it all.

A towering centre back, he showed bravery and strength in the air with one challenge against Blackpool. He pairs his height and power with fabulous ball playing ability. Alongside speed across the ground, he has it all to become a modern ball playing central defender.

To top it all off, he is left footed. A left sided central defender seems like the holy grail in the modern game.

He probably will not start challenging for the first team on a regular basis for another 2 and a half seasons – 2021/22. This might seem a long time away, but Medley would be barely 21-years-old.

Certainly one to leave in the box, playing youth team level and keep an eye on for the future.

Some of these lads might make it at Arsenal, some might not. One thing is for certain, however; they have all lived the dream playing for The Arsenal.

The highlight of 2018/19 so far has been watching so many local boys getting their chance.



Arsenal’s Canavarro ready to become first team regular

The star of England’s World Cup campaign was Leicester City’s Harry Maguire.

A working mans hero who’s unassuming career took him from Sheffield to Hull, Leicester via Wigan. When you listen to him speak, he has no airs and graces about him. He was never destined to be the next big thing, never hyped up as a teenager.

And that comes across on the field as well.

He works hard, defends well, is not bothered about how he looks or how he plays, just that he plays well. That he wins the ball, clears the ball.

Whilst in England there has been a tendency to pine after a Rio Ferdinand type defender, someone who can bring the ball out of play, Maguire showed the importance of “defending first”.

John Stones is the player who was hyped up as a teenager, got his big money move to Manchester City, and has struggled since.

He is a defender who looks comfortable on the ball, and is certainly style over substance. The paid actually gel well for England.

What Maguire shows, and gives hope to others for, is that you do not need to quick, graceful and flashy when playing centre half. You just need to win the ball, and pass it on to someone else to be the creator. It is a simple but effective way of playing. Straight out of the school of Tony Adams and George Graham.

Rob Holding is this sort of centre back.

He is not quick, he is not graceful, he is not completely comfortable on the ball. But this does not mean he is not a good player.

Holding is strong, aggressive, good in the air. And still just 23-years old.

Arsenal have seen this year in Sokratis about how important it is for a defend to be able to defend first.

For years we have wanted defenders who can supposedly play. The likes of Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers. But these players are flawed defensively.

In Sokratis and Holding we have two men who know what it means to defend.

Holding should be looking at Sokratis, looking Maguire. About how to keep it simple and effective. How you can become a top defender by defending.

He has now played 5 of the last 6 games for Arsenal, and there is an argument to be made, based on current form, that is should be Holding plus either Mustafi or Sokratis moving forward. Preferably the Greek man.

With Gareth Southgate seemingly speaking experimental England squads – the likes of Marcus Bettinelli, Lewis Dunk, Nathaniel Chalobah, Harry Winks, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho have been called up for the latest round of games – Holding must not be too far down the pecking order. As long as he continues getting game time and his current form.

Holding, like Maguire, is a simple player. But it is sticking to the simplicity that will make him a top player.


Can Arsenal keep 3 young centre backs?

Calum Chambers. Rob Holding. Konstantinos Mavropanos.

It is hard enough to give one young player enough game time to develop. But 3 young players, in the same position, it is near enough impossible.

I asked a simple question on the She Wore a Yellow Ribbon Facebook page. It was based on Snog, Marry, Avoid but with a football twist. Like basketball or basketbull.

Keep, loan, sell?

The theory being that moving into the new season, we should keep one, loan one, sell one. But the discussion is perhaps bigger than one word answer.

Calum Chambers is 23 years old. It is incredible to think that he has been at the club for 4 seasons already, having signed for Arsenal in 2014 for £16 million as a 19-year-old.

“His mature performance defied his youthful years” was how he was described after an early game. Following a strong start to the season, Chambers was nominated for the Golden Boy Award 2014, alongside international teammates Raheem Sterling, Luke Shaw and John Stones. It also saw him win 3 England caps (starting twice) at the back end of 2014.

Players returning to the club saw him push out to right back to cover Hector Bellerin. And this is where his Arsenal career stuttered.

Exposed for a lack of pace, I remember one game he was absolutely destroyed by Jefferson Montero against Swansea. It also destroyed his confidence to such an extent that come the 2015 FA Cup Final he was not even in the match day squad.

The next season, he struggled to make an impact before being loaned out for the 2016/17 season to Middlesbrough, where he performed well at centre back in a fruitless relegation battle.

Despite good performances, Arsenal were willing to listen to offers last summer and rumoured to have accepted a bid from Crystal Palace.

This season has been a mixed bag for the Englishman with just 3 Premier League starts before the New Year. The second half of the year has seen him come back into favour with 9 Premier League appearances.

In recent weeks, he has forced his way into the side ahead of Rob Holding, and performed well. He has also covered Hector Bellerin at right back a couple of times.

Having signed a new contract this season – more to protect his sell on value than anything else – his career this summer is in the balance.

He is still young, but can no longer really be talked about as a youngster. Having already done the loan thing in 2016, Arsenal have a simple choice. Keep or sell.

If Arsenal keep him, I imagine it will be more as cover for Bellerin at right back than high up on the list of centre backs.

Like Calum Chambers, Rob Holding’s Arsenal career got off to a solid start, to the point where last summer, everyone was happy to keep Holding and sell Chambers. This year he has not kicked on.

Mainly due to a lack of game time, Holding has stagnated this season. He probably could have done with spending it on loan. Instead, he turns 23 in September and is in desperate need of minutes. The question arises as to whether he will get those minutes in 2018/19?

Just yesterday (after I wrote this blog) Holding signed a new long term deal with Arsenal, so he is clearly in the plans for the future.

He is currently competing with Calum Chambers as 3rd choice defender in the squad (RIP Mertescaker). If, as expected, Arsenal sign a new senior defender, that pushes the pair to compete for 4th choice defender.

Would being 4th choice really give him the game time to develop? I really do not know.

Maybe we have to accept that Rob Holding is never going to be better than Canavarro. That he is an inexpensive, home-grown 4th choice centre back providing adequate cover for the 3 ahead. A similar role to that which Wes Brown / Johnny Evans played for Manchester United?

We are never going to be a Manchester City, having a £40m centre back as first choice (and another on loan). We need to be more sensible than that. Holding is an adequate 4th choice player. With Chambers covering right back, there is space for both Englishmen as reserve team players.

The only question around Holding is the new boy, Konstantinos Mavropanos.

After the drop in form of Chambers and Holding after impressive debuts, you thin kwe as a fan base would have learnt.

Do not hype up a player after a single game.

But that is what is borderline happening with Mavropanos after his impressive debut against Manchester United.

The Greek lad (as he will herewith be known) is just 20 years old, a similar age to the others when they started their Arsenal careers. He put in a strong and competent performance  against Man U. But we need to let him develop in his own time.

At 6ft 4in he certainly has the size to be a Premier League defender, but Arsenal need to learn their mistakes from Chambers and Holding and ensure he gets the game time to continue his development.

Originally the plan was to loan him out to Germany for the second half of this season. That plan was dropped when he was named on the bench for the League Cup semi-final fixture against Chelsea.

Instead of 6 months on loan, he has spent his time in the Premier League 2, developing along nicely. The concern is what happens next year.

If next season, he sits as 4th or 5th choice centre back, playing in the League Cup and the odd Premier League game, he will be no better a player than he is now. His most important years of development and learning would have been wasted, like it has been with Holding and Chambers.

There is only so much you can learn on the training pitch. You truly develop as a player by playing games. No matter what level those games are at, just play 90 minutes every weekend. Therefore it is important that Mavropanos is playing somewhere next season.

Give him a good pre-season at Arsenal. Let him get some game time against Atletico Madrid in Singapore, PSG or Chelsea, then when he comes back, send him on loan to a team where he will play most of the season.

Whether that be abroad in Germany, in the Premier League, or even in the Championship. He just needs to be playing.

Arsenal should follow the blue print that Chelsea wrote for Andreas Christensen, who went on loan to Borussia Monchengladbach for 2 seasons, playing nearly every game. He went as a teenage prodigy, returned ready for first team action.

Preferably I would like Mavropanos to go to Germany. A year out of the limelight of obsessive fans. Perform their for 32 league games and then return.

If we get it right, come the season after, when Laurent Koscielny is put down, he could be in a position to fight for a first team place.

And there I go, after 1 game, already claiming he could be a first team player in 12 months.

The key is to let him develop, let him get game time.

My thoughts on this blog began with me thinking “we can not keep hold of Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Konstantinos Mavropanos next season, one has to be sold” but in writing this, I seem to have come up with a solution.

We buy a new first choice centre back. He is partnered by Laurent Koscielny or Shkodran Mustafi. The other of which is then back up (rotating in depending on opponents / injuries). Rob Holding then becomes decent, home grown cover for the 3 of them as 4th choice centre back.

Calum Chambers then backs them up as 5th choice centre back, and covers Hector Bellerin at right back. Mavropanos is then sent on loan for a year.

Role forward a year, summer of 2019, Koscielny will be nearing his 34th birthday. He will be pout down. Mustafi would have either made it or not made it. If it is the former, then we have our new centre back partnering  Mustafi, with Holding and Mavropanos backing them up.

If Mustafi has not made it, another new centre back is bought in, with Holding and Mavropanos still backing them up.

We just need to get the development and expected squad roles right.