Arsenal defender Rob Holding has reminded returning loanee William Saliba that plenty of other centre-backs have come and gone over the last few years.
Saliba returns to his parent club after an impressive season on loan at Marseille, where he was named young player of the year in Ligue 1. He also earned his first senior caps for France, and Marseille were understandably keen to pursue a permanent deal only for Arsenal to knock that idea on the head with academy director Per Mertesacker singing the defender’s praises.
The 21-year-old is expected to play a bigger role at the Emirates Stadium during the upcoming season, having featured in the Gunners’ warm-up friendlies. However, plenty of big names have tried and failed to establish themselves in north London since Holding arrived from Bolton Wanderers in 2016.
“I’ve been here seven years now and the club have made other signings at centre-half since I’ve been there,” Holding told The Athletic. “It comes down to me backing myself and proving to the manager that I’m good enough to play — and that’s spoken for itself over the past six years.
“I’ve seen a few centre-halves that have come in and have now gone, and I’m still here — so I must be doing something right. It’s another challenge, and we go from there.”
The central defenders to arrive over the last six years include some like Shkodran Mustafi who arrived at huge cost, as well as Pablo Mari, who – like Saliba – has just returned from loan. The Spaniard ended last season on loan in Italy with Udinese, but played 45 minutes alongside Holding on Wednesday as Arsenal beat Orlando City 3-1 during their US tour.
Holding has made 60 appearances for Arsenal across the last two seasons – nearly half of his overall tally for the club. The arrival of Ben White last summer meant he was often used as defensive cover, though, with just nine league starts in 2021-22.
One of those starts came in the North London Derby, where his evening ended early due to a red card. The 26-year-old has reflected on the decision which brought him a second yellow card for a foul on Son Heung-min, but also says he can’t allow himself to dwell on it too much.
“I remember the next day we were off and I was taking the dog for a walk. And I was just walking — I was just thinking over and over again in my head, ‘What could I have done different?” Holding said. “Could I have maybe had a different body shape, or not been quite as tight?’
The task now for Holding is to remain a key part of the Arsenal squad, and Saliba’s return means more competition for places. Still, as the Englishman recognises, plenty have come and gone in the past.