Arsenal can defend it seems.
Thursday night’s victory over Southampton may not have been the Gunners most impressive, nor most free-flowing performance of the season, but it signified the defensive capabilities of Mikel Arteta’s inexperienced side.
After the calamitous performance of David Luiz against Manchester City last week, as well as the last-gasp slip up against Brighton on Saturday, it appeared that Arteta really did have his work cut out in improving a seemingly fragile defence.
However, the trip to St Mary’s showed perhaps a new Arsenal, one that could actually hold onto a lead.
Hector Bellerin aside, the Arsenal backline looked relatively impenetrable, as Southampton toiled to create an opening throughout the game.
Yet, while the presence of Kieran Tierney was no doubt a factor in an improved defensive display, it was the imperious performance of Rob Holding that really caught the eye.
The Englishman has had a torrid few years with injury, and must have feared for his Arsenal future after the club secured the contracts of fellow central defenders Pablo Mari and David Luiz.
However, at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, the 24-year-old may have shown that he can become the club’s first-choice centre-back, as the Gunners recorded a rare clean sheet away from home.
The former Bolton man was especially dominant in the air, winning every header he possibly could as the home side looked for an equaliser – in what was an uncomfortable second-half for Holding and his colleagues.
Yet, while Arsenal may have not seen much of the ball, stand-in stopper Emiliano Martinez was forced into only a handful of saves – most notably from a Shane Long effort.
The Gunners lined up in what seemed a conventional back four, with Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Holding and Tierney, yet throughout the game young starlet Bukayo Saka dropped into a left-wing back role to offer further stability.
Perhaps it was this comfort blanket which influenced Holding’s starring display, yet few can argue he looked every bit the player Arsenal are crying out for in defence.
Whether this form continues remains to be seen, but what is clear is that Holding must be given game-time, even when Luiz has returned from suspension.
While it’s still surprising the Brazilian has earned a new one-year deal after such a poor season thus far, he remains a threat to Holding’s starting berth nonetheless.
Equally, the signature of Pablo Mari on a permanent deal is no doubt a statement of his value to Mikel Arteta, although his season-ending injury will offer Holding a chance at a continued run in the side.
For those skeptics who may question the threat of this Southampton side in attack, any Premier League defender will tell you it is no easy time facing the pest that is Danny Ings – who was kept unusually quite by Holding and co.
Sure, Arsenal will face a tougher test in future fixtures and future seasons, but if Thursday night’s performance is anything to go by, the weak and spineless Arsenal side we have become so accustomed too may be at an end.
That may seem hyperbolic, but it really was pleasing to witness a Gunners performance that wasn’t littered with defensive errors. If Arteta has any sense he will stick with this defensive shape in the coming weeks and continue to select perhaps his most promising (and least error prone) central defender – Rob Holding.