Morning.

Let’s start with the news that Rob Holding has signed a new contract with the club. Interestingly, and for the first time I can recall, Arsenal have been very specific with the length of the deal. Usually it’s a ‘long term contract’, and while the information isn’t exactly top secret, they never include in it the announcement.

His runs until 2024, with an option for one more year. And I’m on board with this one. Here’s why.

The departures

As I wrote the other day, this summer (at the latest) will see a significant cull of our bloated central-defensive department. David Luiz, Sokratis, and Shkodran Mustafi will all be out of contract and leaving the club. There are concerns over Calum Chambers after his injury, and I suspect the fact we’ve handed Holding a new deal will have some repercussions for his great mate. It’s also hard to see a way back for Dinos Mavropanos as injuries impact his season yet again.

Come the summer our collection of eight central defenders could be down to four, with Pablo Mari and Gabriel our left-sided options, then Rob Holding and the, hopefully, returning William Saliba for the right. It’s a tighter group of defenders, which is what Arteta wants.

Summer priorities

When you’re planning your squad, you have to look at what you can do internally and what you need to do externally. This summer, I suspect what we need to do in the market means that decisions have to be made about certain positions. Take midfield, for example. Dani Ceballos will 99% go back to Spain and stay there; Mohamed Elneny is an asset that we should cash in on; it’s hard to make a strong case that Joe Willock wouldn’t benefit from a loan somewhere, at least; leaving us with a midfield pair of Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka – a player over whose future there have been questions in their own right.

For me, the main priority in the market this summer is a midfield rebuild. Renewing Holding means we can put more resources into that.

The two year thing + Brexit

This summer Holding would have had two years left on his deal. This is where we have been looking for the club to make a decision about a player: extend or sell. I’m glad we’ve been decisive here. I think sometimes we get a little too wrapped up in a player’s resale value, but when you see your club invest big money in players who have got basically none of that, it’s no wonder we pay attention to things like this.

He’s 25 now. He’s heading into the prime of his career, and he’s English. In the post-Brexit transfer market, that’s important and it absolutely secures his value. Whatever happens now, barring some disaster with injury, his market value is basically assured. Remember, we paid £2m (sorry it wasn’t £50m etc etc), so if we choose to sell down the line, he’s someone whose departure will allow us to reinvest.

He’s been decent

I think questions about whether Rob Holding is the calibre of defender who can help you win a title are reasonable. But those aren’t really questions that are relevant at this moment in time because we’re such a long way from being a team that can do that. In the meantime, you need good professionals to be part of your squad to help you build to that level, and I think Holding is one of those.

I know he’s had a few more games than Gabriel, who was widely considered our best defender this season (although I suspect his newness played a little part in that), but statistically he matches up. He’s made more tackles, nearly twice as many clearances (which in part is because he’s a solid, last-ditch penalty box, meat and drink defender), and I think there have been improvements in his passing game too.

Yes, he was part of a team which struggled and went through that terrible period, but I don’t think think that bad run of results was predicated on bad defending, it was much more a collective issue. The big problem was we weren’t creating attacking opportunities, and that’s something we’ve addressed. Like Gabriel, he has zero errors leading to a goal this season, and in general I think his performances stand up to most scrutiny.

I also think that in this day and age, the impossible pursuit of, and demand for, perfection colours people’s view of players. Go back in time and watch our best defenders ever, the ones rightly held up and lionised as legends and heroes. They made mistakes, they were part of teams which struggled. That famous back four/five we all love so much finished mid-table more than once. Which isn’t to say that Holding is going to get to that level, but it’s possible to separate individual quality from the team’s overall performance.

Again, he’s 25. We’re making a sensible investment in a player who still has plenty of room to improve. He’s not being handed the position and told this is yours forever. He’s not been made our highest paid player of all time. I’m sure the plan is for him to compete with someone else, hopefully Saliba when he comes back, and hopefully that competition will bring out the best in both.

Mikel Arteta says:

Since I started as manager, I have been hugely impressed with Rob’s contribution to the club and the dressing room, on and off the pitch. The quality of his work every day on the training pitches is excellent and he is translating this into consistently high performances in matches.

By all accounts he’s a really hard working pro, the kind you need in a dressing room, and considering the character of some we have in there right now, that’s important. All in all, I think it’s a solid decision which provides some assurance/clarity to our defensive options, allows us to spend transfer money on positions which are much more pressing, and hopefully he can continue to improve a player.

Finally, for today, there’s good news about Gabriel Martinelli whose ankle injury doesn’t appear to be as serious as first feared. He’s likely to miss tomorrow’s game with Palace, but should be back in contention for Monday’s visit of Newcastle, so that’s a relief.

Right, I’ll leave it there. We’ll have a Crystal Palace preview podcast available for Patreon Members later this evening; there’s a very interesting new episode of the Arsenal Women Arsecast looking at the fallout from some players travelling to Dubai; and I’ll be back here with more tomorrow.