Can Rob Holding hold the key to Arsenal's defensive improvements?
Rob Holding returns after eight months on the sidelines | (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Having been sidelined since last December with an ACL tear, Rob Holding is now back in full training with the Arsenal first team and is available for selection.

Before suffering the injury in an away fixture against Manchester United, Holding was establishing himself as a key member of Arsenal’s starting XI - forming a steady partnership with fellow centre back Sokratis.

With the former Bolton man back to full fitness, here’s a look at how his presence could help Arsenal’s leaky defence.

Comfortable in possession

One of the standout aspects of Holding’s game is his ability to play with the ball. With Unai Emery insistent on his team playing out from the back, it is vital that he has centre backs who are comfortable in possession and are able to play accurate passes. The signing of David Luiz is an indicator of Emery’s philosophy, and Holding can supplement Arsenal’s centre back options in a similar fashion.

As well as having competent technical ability, Holding is also a good reader of the game. The 23-year-old often finds himself in the right place at the right time, evidenced by his average of 1.2 interceptions per game in the Premier League last season. It is also worth noting that
the Gunners won six of the ten league games in which Holding featured, including a victory against north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.

Competition for places

Whilst the quality of Arsenal’s defensive options may be up for debate, the quantity certainly isn’t. Emery currently has six centre back options at his disposal, with the likes of Luiz, Sokratis, Shkodran Mustafi, Calum Chambers, Holding and the highly thought-of Konstantinos Mavropanos all vying for first team opportunities.

Although Emery has occasionally deployed a 3-5-2 formation, his preferred system is a 4-2-3-1, meaning only two of six centre backs are likely to be selected. The intense competition for places could spur the likes of Holding on to reach a new level and help shore up a much-maligned Arsenal defence. Despite a number of promising performances before picking up his long term injury, Holding only had one clean sheet to his name - a statistic he will no doubt be eager to improve on.

Holding’s timely return will prove a selection headache for Emery, but if he can recapture the form he showed last season in his limited minutes, the England U21 international could have a big say in Arsenal’s season going forward.