Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a promising, young English centre back plays a few games for Arsenal, generally impresses alongside Laurent Koscielny, and is then pulled out of the first team squad in favour of more senior defenders with questionable claims to having better talent.
For Rob Holding, his Arsenal future could start looking a lot like Calum Chambers if something, be it Arsene Wenger’s lineups and decisions, or the identity of the manager, doesn’t change soon. And what is Calum Chambers future? The 22 year old has impressed this season while on loan at Middlesbrough, but with Per Mertesacker renewing, there are now four first-team defenders that Arsene Wenger prefers. For Holding and Chambers, the future is seemingly occasional cup run outs, games for the U-23 side, or going out on loan until they inevitably move on.
Wenger’s most successful young players were only successful because they got a good amount of first-team playing time. Cesc Fabregas got 46 games as a 17-year old, and never looked back, and even a less heralded player, like Kieran Gibbs, was first choice when fit for over two seasons.
Instead, Chambers found himself behind Gabriel, despite questionable performances from the latter, and Holding has done so, despite the quality of Gabriel’s performances not really improving, even if he did acquit himself well at right back in Héctor Bellerin’s absence. Holding’s only games of yet have been in the FA Cup, and yet he didn’t play against Lincoln, with Wenger later revealing he wanted to not take Lincoln lightly.
This, however, is a feature of later-era Wenger: when his job is under threat, when the team is forced to win, he consistently defers to senior players, even if there’s conclusive proof that they’ve been in poor form. It can breed complacency, and can also damage Arsenal’s future. Will playing Rob Holding instead of Gabriel make a big difference? Perhaps not—maybe only two or three points over the course of a season (though that could be the difference between top 4 and Europa League)—but it can have further benefits in the future, benefits that Wenger currently actively harming.