Ray Parlour has urged Mikel Arteta to build his defence around Rob Holding as the Arsenal boss struggles to find a consistently solid rearguard.
Holding has struggled for opportunities since Arteta’s appointment, leading to speculation that he could be made available for transfer in the summer, but has made an impressive return to the starting lineup in the absence of the suspended David Luiz and the injured duo of Pablo Mari and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Indeed with Holding at his commanding best at St Mary’s on Thursday Arsenal picked up their first away league win of Mikel Arteta’s tenure, keeping a clean sheet and winning three points on their travels for the first time since the opening week of the season.
Holding was a model of consistency for Arsenal in defence, making eight clearances, winning all four of his aerial duels and completing more passes than any of his team-mates. Injuries have dramatically curtailed the 25-year-old’s opportunities in recent years, most notably the ACL in his knee that he ruptured in late 2018, but his display in the 2-0 win over Southampton was a reminder as to why he was a crucial part of Arsenal’s defence prior to that setback.
And with the intervening period having been pockmarked by errors from the likes of Luiz, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi Parlour sees no reason why Arteta should not hand the reigns to Holding.
“Certainly I’d put him in the pecking order ahead of [Luiz and Mustafi],” Parlour told football.london. “He’s a better defender than both of those players.”
He added: “There’s definitely a proper talent there, I’ve said that all along. Before he got injured he was one of our best defenders. He had that injury and was out for a long period and that has been his problem, injuries at bad times.
“But now he has an opportunity. Sometimes it comes around again. I’m sure Mikel Arteta was impressed with him and his performance yesterday. He’s a young lad, he’s learning all the time. Hopefully he can get a regular spot now.
“That’s all you can do: put in a performance, win the right to play the following week, put in another good performance and before you know it you’re a regular with very consistent performances.”
Arteta will have a chance to establish more of a pecking order on Sunday when David Luiz is available once more for the FA Cup sixth round tie at Sheffield United. Sokratis is also available for selection having overcome a thigh injury that meant he was only fit enough to be called on at Southampton in case of emergency.
Luiz has missed Arsenal’s last two games after picking up his second red card of a season in which he has also conceded four penalties and made a string of costly errors. Despite his difficulties Arsenal opted to offer Luiz a new one year contract rather than lose him on a free on June 30, though his current terms have been extended to the end of the season.
The deal is understood to be worth less than the £125,000-a-week his previous contract was worth and Parlour believes Luiz could prove his worth off the pitch even if he slides down the depth chart.
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“Luiz has an excellent CV and I can see why they gave him another year, he’s very good around the dressing room and with the young players,” he said. He might have taken a big pay cut as well.
“If they do need a centre-back, if they do have an injury crisis you’ve got a very experienced player. There have been games where he has played very well at the Emirates.
“So I can see why they signed him for another year but surely Rob Holding has got to be in front [of him]? If he’s fit he has to play instead of Luiz.
“I think that if you can get a settled back four it’s very, very important. If you look at a top house it has good groundwork. Arsene Wenger will tell you exactly that: when he turned up at Arsenal he had the back six – I call them that because of Steve Bould and Martin Keown. He had a solid base, they weren’t going to concede many goals and that always gives you a chance in a football match.”
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