Arsenal: Unlikely heroes emerge as Mikel Arteta’s young side regain control of Champions League battle

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Arsenal: Unlikely heroes emerge as Mikel Arteta’s young side regain control of Champions League battle
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For much of Arsenal’s season their young players have been centre stage, but this recent revival has seen other unlikely protagonists step forward.

After losing to Crystal Palace, Brighton and Southampton, few would have predicted Arsenal would then beat Chelsea, Manchester United and West Ham in quick succession.

Nor would many have called that the likes of Eddie Nketiah and Mohamed Elneny would be at the heart of those wins. Against West Ham, it was the turn of Rob Holding to emerge as an unlikely hero as he helped Arsenal battle to a 2-1 win.

It was not a great performance from the Gunners and even manager Mikel Arteta described it as “ugly”, but they dug deep to grind out the result and no one embodied that gritty effort more than Holding.

The centre-back has been on the periphery this season, playing second fiddle to Ben White and Gabriel and essentially taking on the role of defensive super-sub when Arsenal need to see out a game. ‘Smash glass here in case of emergency’, more or less.

For this trip to West Ham, however, Holding was given the chance to start due to White being out injured with a tight hamstring.

Holding seized his chance, opening the scoring with a header from a corner before throwing his body on the line as Arsenal held on to their slender lead.

“The contribution that he (Holding) is having in terms of minutes is not very noticeable, but the contribution he has for the team is huge,” said Arteta. “He needs some praise.

“He is someone like Mo [Elneny]. He is the same type of character, same type of person, that is just humble, just wants to give to the team and is happy with the success. When you ask him to play, he is always ready to do it.”

It says a lot about the spirit at Arsenal that Holding and Elneny have barely played this season, but have come in and contributed at the most crucial time.

Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny remain crucial for Arsenal despite a lack of regular games (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Rob Holding and Mohamed Elneny remain crucial for Arsenal despite a lack of regular games (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Keeping players happy has not always been easy for Arteta but, even if this slimmed down squad has caused him problems, it has also allowed him to create a greater sense of unity.

Holding has played his part in that and it is telling that he is a member of the leadership group, despite not being a regular starter.

Off the pitch he has a strong influence in the dressing room and is valued by Arteta, acting as one of his trusted lieutenants.

Having a strong first XI is naturally crucial to success, but the role of the squad cannot be overlooked and it has caused issues in the past at Arsenal.

Holding’s goal and defensive efforts were pivotal in sealing an important win at West Ham (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Holding’s goal and defensive efforts were pivotal in sealing an important win at West Ham (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

The dressing room has not always been the happiest of places, however it is noticeable now how those on the sidelines seem fully on board, even if they only have limited chances to play.

“It’s what it’s been like, Ben and Gabi have been great all year and when I’ve had to come on and try and help us secure the three points it’s vital for us, so to play the full 90 and get the three points is even better,” said Holding.

Arsenal’s squad clearly needs strengthening and depth added, but, like last summer, making sure the right characters are signed will be key. In Holding, Arteta has someone who emphatically ticks that box.

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