Mikel Arteta says Rob Holding’s progression in the 12 months since he returned from ACL surgery has been ‘incredible’ and that he deliberately blocked the defender from moving in the summer because he knew he’d be important for Arsenal this season.
Reports surfaced this week that the 26-year-old could be in line for a contract extension having played more minutes for Arsenal than any other centre-back on the club’s books.
After recruiting Gabriel from Lille and retaining David Luiz, the Gunners had nine players fitting that profile and Holding himself had doubts that he’d get game time this season.
At one point it looked like the former-Bolton player would move on loan to Newcastle United but with injuries sidelining his teammates on the eve of the season, the decision was made to retain his services.
Holding hasn’t looked back and was even rewarded with the captain’s armband at Goodison Park in December.
“It was almost a year ago when he came back from his injury,” reflected Arteta ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup clash with Newcastle.
“He had a period when he didn’t play and then he played against Leeds at home [in the FA Cup] and when you compare how he has evolved in a year from there until now, it’s incredible.
“It’s down to him; how professional he is, how much he wants to learn, how much he puts that into every training session. And then there’s his character and his personality. He’s growing in every aspect. I’m really happy with him.
“It’s true that in the summer he came to me because we had a large amount of centre-backs and he wasn’t sure about how many minutes he was going to have. We stopped him going anywhere because we knew he was going to be an important player for us.”
Holding has already matched the total number of appearances he made last season (18) and surpassed his total number of minutes on the pitch (1,287 vs 1,528). Avoiding injury and suspension has played a part, but he’s also steadily grown in confidence.
Asked why he rated the defender when others were quick to dismiss him, Arteta explained: “It’s [because of] what I see on a daily basis from him. As well, the room he has for improvement, his age. I really like what I see.
“He’s earned the right himself. It’s true that there have been many other conditions that have led him to play so many minutes [this season], we’ve had injuries and other issues, but he has earned the right [to play] and nobody can question that when he’s played, he’s played well.”