Rob Holding hailed his return from a near ten month injury enforced absence as “a dream comeback.” Holding played a leading role in Arsenal’s 5-0 thrashing of Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup at the Emirates on Tuesday night. The Gunners kept a rare clean sheet, with the former Bolton man powerfully heading in Arsenal’s second goal on a night which also saw the return of Hector Bellerin who provided an assist less than a minute after his second half introduction.
“It’s like a dream comeback really for me. For Hector to come back and get an assist straight away, you couldn’t have written it any better,” said Holding. On a night of positives for Unai Emery’s side, Gabriel Martinelli, the talented Brazil midfielder grabbed a brace, while Arsenal academy graduates Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson were also on target in the rout of Forest.
Holding had been side-lined since last December following a clash of knees in a challenge with Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford in the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford. Weeks later, Bellerin suffered a similar cruciate knee ligament injury in the 2-0 win over Chelsea at the Emirates in January this year. Months of joint rehab for both followed, with Holding and Bellerin encouraging each other to stay positive.
Rob Holding heads in Arsenal’s second moments after getting the captain’s armband
Holding said, “It was a totally new experience. I’ve never experienced a long term injury like that before but credit to the club and the medical staff they’ve got. The fitness people put an arm around me and lifted me up through it and even though it’s horrible to say. It helped having Hector who went through the same things you’ve got a little buddy there in the gym long days.”
The 24 year old recalled watching on in horror when Bellerin got injured, and admitted that he got “a bit emotional,” when he saw footage of the Spain defender’s injury.
“I think I was two weeks post op when he went down. I was sat up here watching the game and it was really emotional for me to see him go down and get stretchered off and holding his knee. So for us, long days in the gym when we’ve been sat on a water bike just ticking over for 30, 40 minutes… a dark time for us to focus and come out with a performance like that tonight and for him to come on and get an assist straight away it’s just a real pleasure to see. He’s a another great leader for the team as well.”
When Arsenal’s captain for the night Mesut Ozil was replaced by Dani Ceballos, Holding knew that he would get the captain’s armband, and his response with an immediate headed goal from Nelson’s corner had some Arsenal fans harking back to another great Arsenal captain and centre back, Tony Adams.
Emery has expressed a preference to have five captains, with Holding happy to be one of them.
“He likes his five captains so we all did a vote the other week. We’ll see what happens and see who gets named. I was told I’d be vice-captain, so it was an honour for me. As soon as Mesut came off, I knew I’d be getting the captain’s armband so it was a great moment for me.”
Holding celebrates as fully loaded Arsenal gun down Forest
Following the players vote, the final five will be revealed soon said Holding, who also said that he would love to get the overall nod.
“Yes I’d love to be a captain! To be the captain of Arsenal would be unbelievable and it’d be a great feeling. We’ll see what happens in the next couple of weeks if I get it, I’ll be more than happy.”
Much has been made of Arsenal’s inability to defend in the Premier League, as amplified as such in the 2-2 at Watford, a game where the Gunners went into a two goal lead. Holding, Bellerin and summer arrival from Celtic Kieran Tierney showed against Forest how Arsenal can defend, with Calum Chambers also providing three assists on a night where he also shone.
“You saw the lads that all came in hadn’t been playing week in week out in the Premier League team so they’ve put a load of pressure on. There’s a healthy competition in training. There’s twenty five lads that are pushing to get that starting role and it’s a good environment to be in right now.
“I was speaking with Kieran. We were saying there was a bit of pressure on Hector, me and him. The fans have been putting a lot of pressure on, saying we need them three back hopefully they can perform. We had a bit of pressure going into this game so the way we’ve performed, so the way we dealt with it was great.
Holding revealed that Tierney has settled in very nicely since his £25m summer arrival, and acquitted himself well on his debut. Arsenal it seems are building a British spine for the first time in years.
“I think he was brilliant. I loved having him besides me on the left side he was solid for his first game back from his double hernia operation. You can’t ask any more from him. He’s a good Scottish lad. He brings a bit of banter to the team so me and him are getting on really well. He’s settled in. You couldn’t ask for a better way for him to settle in.” However competition for places however will be even tougher warned Holding.
“Yeah, it’s putting the pressure on the lads and I’m sure everybody’s been pushing each other in the last couple of weeks in training to whose going to perform better and play there so we’ll see what the manager does. It’s a good problem for him to have. You can see in training. David Luiz has come in and he’s really… when he’s talking in front of the group, he speaks really well and highly of us so he’s a good addition to bring in.”
Arsenal next travel to the scene of Holding’s injury, Old Trafford on Monday in the Premier League, with the defender keen to be involved in the fixture against United which could prove to be closure from his last unfortunate visit.
“I suppose you could say that it’s a bit of closure in there, for it to have happened there and then to start a game again be involved it’d be interesting but yeah, I’ll look forward to it.
“Yes, it’s all come full circle. Even if I’m on the bench it’d be brilliant to just sort of walk back to that spot where it happened and sort of take it in and have a little bit of a moment and then, yeah, business as usual.”
Recalling the moment it happened, Holding shows no hint of emotion.
“I genuinely just thought it was just a knee on knee contact and a bit of a bump and I was like, I’ve just got a crack on my knee there, that’s a bit sore. But then it was until like I tried to put weight on it and it give way and I was like this is something serious.”
At the final whistle in the win over Forest, both Holding and Bellerin embraced, not only in celebration of the victory, but also in confirmation that they had made it out to the other side and can now fully resume playing duties having overcome horrific but similar injuries.
“Both left knee, both right footed players, so it’s a weight bearing knee when we’re kicking a football and to just go through the process with him made it a lot easier. I’m sure he’d say the same.”