The Saturday Interview: Arsenal’s cultured young centre-back is Holding out hope for big chance to shine

Arsenal's Rob Holding in action at Sutton in the FA Cup (pic Daniel Hambury/Empics)

Arsenal's Rob Holding in action at Sutton in the FA Cup (pic Daniel Hambury/Empics) - Credit: EMPICS Sport

For a 21-year-old Rob Holding looks composed as he walks into the room, shakes your hand firmly and fixes you firmly in the eye.

But then the Tameside-born former Bolton Wanderers centre-half is a self-assured character – on and off the pitch. With English football demanding a centre-back who can play the ball out with a calm maturity and a poised, unflappable nature, Arsenal’s levelheaded defender looks to have a bright future in front of him.

Certainly if the easy-going but confident manner he exudes during our interview is anything to go by, as the leap into the big time doesn’t appear to have impacted on him. Not even for a lad who first joined his local team as a fresh-faced sevenyear-old with a love of the beautiful game and a stylish technique which saw his career progress so well as to perfectly suit Arsene Wenger’s requirements.

“Coaches have always said I’m nice and relaxed on the ball and they don’t want to take that away from me. And that’s what suits the Arsenal style of play”, says Holding in an interview at the club’s training ground at London Colney.

“We need centre-backs to pass the ball out from the back and start the next attack. I like to play like that. I’d rather be a player like that. A player who plays the ball to midfield and get on the attack – rather than hoofing one down the channels.

“Centre-back is where I’m most comfortable. I remember when I broke through at Bolton I had to play right-back for a couple of games until the centre-back got injured and when he came back I cemented my place there. But if the boss wants me to play right-back I’m more than happy to play there if he wants me to.”

The youngster has crammed in more experience than many his age possess. From relegation to the third tier with a proud club in a struggling team to being plucked from the third tier to playing against the might of Liverpool in the first game of this season.

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Holding adds: “There’s a massive difference between Bolton and Arsenal. I’ve gone from playing in front of 15-17,000 to coming to Arsenal and getting 60,000 every week. It’s crazy to walk out to. I remember before the start against Liverpool when I first walked out and they all cheered me – it was a great welcome from the fans.”

The 4-3 loss may not have been the ideal debut for this engaging lad but he is honest enough to recognise that – with a critical self-analysis which bodes well for his future at the North London giants. “That was a crazy game. I felt in the first half me and Callum Chambers did well as a young centrehalf partnership. And then they got a goal, albeit by a foul from me, and came flying out in the second half which was just a shock to us. “We showed a bit of spirit to get back into it but we weren’t good enough to get a draw or a win at the end. So it was a difficult time, but I feel we’ve moved on from there.”

Despite Wenger’s men suffering damaging league defeats against Watford and Chelsea, which have derailed any talk of a realistic title bid, and a 5-1 thrashing at the Allianz Arena against Bayern Munich all but ending their Champions League hopes, the Gunners face non-league Lincoln City in the FA Cup sixth round clash in 10 days time.

It is a game the modest northerner is targeting to get more playing time under his belt, not to mention the hope of ending the season with the world’s oldest knockout trophy in their possession. “We want to end the season by winning something. I definitely want a trophy. I’ve never won a trophy apart from with England U21s. I’d love a trophy and a nice medal with Arsenal,” he adds.

And the music the team would play in the dressing room at any potential Wembley semi-final, if – and it is still very much a big if given Sutton United’s battling performance in the fifth round – the Gunners beat the Imps at the Emirates?

For a Manchester lad it has to be the Stone Roses and Holding adds: “Yes. I’m very much into that. I remember growing up in school and when I was driving into training at Bolton it was very much like that. I’d put the Stone Roses CD into the car, I listened to Waterfall a ridiculous amount of times. I’d also listen to Oasis and stuff like that. That was my scene.” For this good-natured and highly talented prospect it would be fitting if Holding plays Your Star Will Shine before a pivotal game this spring.

Follow Layth on Twitter @laythy29