Has Rob Holding been found out?
He's been basically what was expected but perhaps teams are figuring out how to neutralize Arsenal with him in the squad and the worst is yet to come.
There is a narrative developing about Rob Holding and how his introduction has changed the way that Arsenal play. When I see this kind of thing starting it really piques my interest and make me really want to take a look at this and get a sense of the validity of this sentiment.
This isn’t an easy task (using data for center-backs is never easy but maybe it is a little easier with players playing essentially the same role in the same team), especially trying to tease things out over a four-match period but let’s still take a journey trying to get a sense of things but do so with loosely held conclusions.
I think a good place to start is reiterating that Holding is an Arsenal backup. He is probably the 3rd or 4th choice to be playing in the right center-back role and is only here because there are injuries to two of the players ahead of him. Before these injuries, his only game time was late solidifying the defense or as a rotation guy for the cups.
There is a reason that he wasn’t starting and to expect that there to be no drop-off would have placed the expectations unfairly high. Questions about why he was still in the squad would be warranted (I think it is because we are ahead of schedule on the full squad rebuild) but that is for another post.
Since he came into the team Arsenal have won 2, and drawn 2, with 2 times having 2-0 leads turn into a draw (lots of 2’s in that sentence). That’s 8 points from 12, but more along the lines of 9 to 10 based on the actual performance. On points, there is a slip but really that would turn massively on if one of those draws had been held as a win.
With that baseline set let’s get into looking at the passing dashboard for both this season in the Premier League because I think this paints a very nice picture of the subtle differences between him and William Saliba.
The big difference that jumps out is that Holding favors going long more often than Saliba. Holding looks to pass long on just over 17% of his attempts compared to 8% for Saliba, from watching him this seems to be almost semi-clearance style vs actual long passes that he is looking to complete to a teammate, which is reflected in that he completes just 66% of his long attempts compared to Saliba who completes 75%.
This was a pretty obvious problem against Liverpool, where Arsenal was pressed very effectively and Holding went long more often than he tried to play the lateral keep possession short pass.
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