Mikel Arteta has praised Rob Holding for the “incredible” way he has turned his Arsenal career around.
Holding, 25, nearly joined Newcastle on a season-long loan last summer because Arsenal had a wealth of centre-halves and it was hard to see him getting a look in.
But six months later, Holding is now one of the first names on the teamsheet.
He is a big personality in the dressing-room and has even worn the captain’s armband when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been out.
It is a great story, almost mirroring Holding’s finest hour to date when he was brought in as an emergency centre half in the 2017 FA Cup final and ended up helping Arsenal lift the trophy after beating Chelsea.
Gunners boss Arteta says Holding’s biggest issue was injury – he came back from a serious knee injury suffered in December 2018 – rather than falling down the pecking order.
And the Spaniard full of admiration for the way he has fought his way back.
Speaking ahead of Saturday afternoon's FA Cup clash against Newcastle, Arteta said: “It was almost a year ago when he came back from his injury. He had a period when he did not play.
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“When you compare how he has evolved from there to now, in a year’s time, it is incredible.
“It is down to him, how professional he is, how much he wants to learn, how much he puts into every training session and then his character and his personality.
“He is growing in every aspect. I am really happy with him. It is true that in the summer he came to me because we had a large amount of central defenders and he was not sure about how many minutes he was going to have.
Is Rob Holding Arsenal's best centre-back? Have your say here.
“But we stopped him going anywhere because we knew he was going to be an important player for us.”
Arsenal have a lot of centre halves from David Luiz to Shkodran Mustafi and Pablo Mari.
Calum Chambers is on his way back from injury while Willian Saliba was loaned out and Sokratis has not even made the squad.
But Holding is one of the most popular and likeable figures at the club.
He is honoured to play for Arsenal and is incredibly passionate – and that is why Arteta has looked to him to become one of his leaders.
Arteta added: “It is what I see on a daily basis with him, and the room that he still has for improvement, his age. I really like what I see. He has earned that right himself.
“It is true there have been many other conditions for him to play that many minutes because we have injuries, we have other issues, but he has earned that right. Nobody can question that when he has played, he has performed really well.”
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