Holding the Defence Together

The chaos of the television-controlled fixture list continues with Arsenal waiting until Monday for their next game.

A decade ago, switching Manchester United vs Arsenal to Monday Night Football was unthinkable; it was the biggest fixture of the season. Now, a Monday in a week when both face Europa League tie? How the mighty have fallen.

The result of beating Nottingham Forest is a trip to Anfield in the next round of the Carabao Cup. It falls in a busy time of the season; back-to-back Europa League fixtures with Vittoria Guimaeres, and sandwiched between the visits of Wolves and Crystal Palace.

With that workload, the cup team has plenty of opportunity to impress Unai Emery. Some more than others, however. Some, like Mustafi aren’t going to change their futures at the club. Admirable as his decision to stay and fight is, a year of cup football isn’t much to be going on. Especially as we know the first XI comes in when the silverware is in sight.

Squad rotation is key and just like us Liverpool won’t be fielding a strong team. It should be an interesting clash, not least because our cup team will feature the likes of AMN, Kolasicnac and one of Luiz or Sokratis, if not both.

Rob Holding, the saviour of all things defensive at Arsenal, returned with a goal on Tuesday night. Is it enough to get him back into the side at Old Trafford? Let’s be honest, it ought to be the way our current pair are playing.

However, that relies on Emery shedding his conservative coat. His faith in certain players is unshakable and it is hard to see him ditching both Sokratis and Luiz. Nobody will be surprised if he reverts to a back three.

Prayers Answered?

It’s a rare occasion when Emery has been spoiled for choice. Injuries and suspensions always step in to disrupt plans. This time, there’s none of the latter while the former is affecting the full-backs more.

Holding is unstained by last season’s collapse or the mixed start to this campaign. Thus he is seen as the answer to our prayers, of a time when defenders, well, you know, defend.

Is that the end of our problems? No; defending is a problem for the whole of the team, not just the back four. Granted, their mistakes lead to goals but make no mistake, others made errors which lead to the situation arising. Mostly.

The one thing which is most striking about Sokratis’ and Luiz’s mistakes this season is just how many are unforced.

Pulling shirts, charging into unwinnable headers or whatever; those are rushes of blood familiar to novices but by their age, their levels of experience? Those should be already ironed out of the game, largely.

Hence Holding, whom I think is a good player, occupying an elevated status. The question is whether Calum Chambers should be thought of similarly?

Whatever anyone says about him, Chambers fought hard to get where he is. A year or so ago, he looked like he was on his way out. A decent season with Fulham seemed to be his farewell to Arsenal.

Fair play to him. Chambers did well in preseason – which is not the best time or place to judge a player, I agree – but at Newcastle he looked comfortable in the first XI. Subsequent cup exploits only served to remind Emery he has a good, versatile defender on his hands.

But still Luiz and Sokratis remain in situ.

Ever Decreasing Circles

Wholesale changes aren’t going to happen. Holding will come in but Xhaka, for example, remains. Whatever those photos are, they must be dynamite.

The Swiss occupies many minds. Coaches rate him, supporters – sweeping generalisation time – don’t. It underlines how differently the two view the game.

However, how does Xhaka feel? His cause wasn’t helped by the bizarre not my fault post-match interview in which he pointed the finger at the forwards. Fair play; they do miss but they aren’t our fundamental problem. The defensive side of our game is.

Decisions, decisions. Yet, the more things change, the more players return to the first team from injury, the less they change. It’s not stretch to think the back four at Anfield for that Carabao cup-tie will be the one which faced Liverpool in league with Kolasinac for Monreal.

Does anyone really think that will be the case? Emery has shown his conservative nature with team selections in the past; a month is too far in the future, even with his crystal ball.

Let’s be honest, the way this season has gone in that month, we could see a whole raft of team changes and have gone full circle back to the original Keystone Kops.

Football, eh? Dontcha just love it.

‘til Tomorrow.

23 thoughts on “Holding the Defence Together

  1. Ferkov says:

    Just writing on yesterday’s……
    Watched the game last night.
    Standouts were Chambers and Tierney.
    The array of skills Chambers showed was even a surprise for me, and I’ve been backing him all season.
    His availability was incessant, and his runs down both flanks were both well considered and productive. Clips, fizzed crosses, volleys ,cushions. Not sure how long his one armed throws will be allowed mind.
    In defence he was quick to reposition and got tight enough, considering his limited turn of pace. Top speed was impressive tho.
    He’s got CDM written all over him.

    I’ll read this one now. Apologies for cheating. But I felt a touch!

  2. Ferkov says:

    Thanks YW. Food for thought as ever.
    Papa, Chambers and Holding in a back 3, or 2 Bobs in back 4 and Chambers in front.

  3. jonnygunner says:

    Thanks YW. Food for thought as ever.
    Papa, Chambers and Holding in a back 3, or 2 Bobs in back 4 and Chambers in front.

    Agreed about Chambers…some players just seem to take a longer period of time to get to the level…he has,but it looks like it’s been worth the wait.

  4. nicky says:

    Only Emery and his coaching staff will know from whom to select the team who will overcome the noisy part of Manchester on Monday night.
    I would like to see Messrs Bellerin, Holding, Chambers and Tierney in it, but only if the Manager thinks they are ready.
    By ready, I mean prepared to meet the physical challenges of rivals who themselves are struggling.
    Because there can be little doubt that United will use every intimidating trick in the book in order to win the game.
    While I think we will succeed, I hope it will not be at the expense of further injuries.

  5. Ferkov says:


    I doubt we’ll see all our favourites. I think Hector would be a risk too far, and tierney might be a bit too unestablished for Mr Emery’s palate.
    I think Holding should be in there, and Chambers must be nailed on for the RB spot. Is AMN banned? Or did the Carrot Cup qualify? Either way Chambers has shown much more capability in the role.
    But as you say, it’s in the wind

  6. C says:

    Chambers as a CB doesn’t do it for me but as a CDM he does. RB I think he can certainly do a job.

    Bellerin and Tierney for Manure yoo early for my liking especially Bellerin. Holding, certanly in contention and I would partner him with Luiz.

  7. Blue Yonder says:

    Expectations of Holding have become uncomfortably high. For quite some time, he had been written off, much as Chambers had been. Last season he started to come into his own when he was injured. I’m hopeful that he will continue to improve and impress but let’s not put a monkey on his back with unreasonable expectations.
    Virtually the same can be said of Chambers.

  8. Blue Yonder says:

    I have a hunch that Emery will go with a mostly experienced lineup against MU. By that, I mean the usual suspects: Xhaka, Luiz, Sokratis. Surely, that’s asking for trouble. On the other hand, I not keen on some of the recently injured being tested so soon in what could be a very physical game. It’s going to be a tough lineup card to make up.

  9. Adam Singh says:

    Big game on Monday (from a selfish perspective I love it when arsenal play on a mid at night as I get to watch it live on the TV and in peace after the kids have gone to bed).

    Man U are there for the taking. They are struggling for goals and our pace upfront should cause them all sorts of problems.

    I just hope we start with the right tempo and get at them straight away as I think if we score first it’s game over.

    As for the first 11, a back 5 isn’t a bad idea so long as it’s Chambers, Luiz, Holding. Which I think could work really well.

  10. Noon Gunner says:

    Blue Yonder,

    I think Chambers’ two spells out on loan have made a huge difference to him. He’s matured considerably, to my eye, and not at the expense of his natural flare and ability both on and off the ball. AW clearly saw something when we bought him from Southampton, and having been a sceptic before he went on loan, I now reckon we’ve got a really solid defender (remember those?).

  11. Arsetralian says:

    My head is spinning with possible permutations…players we like, players who get better by not playing, young uns, tried and tested…and that is where UE wins or loses.

    My biggest fear is fear itself. We should beat them as I think we have superior firepower and they have been poor. But OT. Playing a big team away. Jelly legs.

  12. Arsetralian says:

    Noon Gunner,

    I agree
    I had written him off
    In fact I said we should keep Gabriel over him
    He has looked impressive but like C I still find it hard to see him as our go to CB
    Fulham did use him as DM…

  13. Wavey says:


    I read an article on the BBC which I think is worth sharing:


    It’s something you don’t really think about when you see players with long term injuries who continually break down on their return. We’ve had our fair share of players like that with Diaby and Jack never really being able to string a decent run of games together. I hope our current crop, such as Holding and Bellerin, do not have serious reoccurring injuries or they will spend more time on the treatment table than the pitch.

    I am more confident of the abilities of our injured trio of defenders than the ones they will eventually replace. The one concern I have is over Holding, he has a habit of letting his head drop when he makes a mistake. He then tends to run around like a headless chicken for the rest of the game. If the coaches can help him to get to grips with that and understand that mistakes happen to the best players, he will be one hell of a defender. Tony was prone to a corker of a cock up from time to time, but always stood up to be counted.

  14. Spike says:


    I dont think Chambers has been given enough of a chance at centre back and hes had no chances in midfield. But given we signed a specialist DM in Torreira and the manager still persists with the hapless Xhaka, theres eff all chance Dick will let Chambers loose in the middle of the park.

    I keep saying it, but I’d love to see a back 4 of Bellerin, Holding, Chambers and Tierney.

    But Luiz HAS to play in Emerys eyes.

    It’s all so predictable.

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