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Pablo Mari injury opens door to Rob Holding

Pablo Mari will miss the rest of the season with an ankle injury. His absence in the Arsenal defence opens the door for Rob Holding, who might finally have his chance to earn a starting spot under Mikel Arteta.

It took just one minute for Arsenal to enter into a new injury crisis. Fast forward another 22 minutes and there was another injury. By the end of the night, the Gunners had lost one centre-back to injury, another to a red-card suspension, a third who finished the match with a knock, and a final one who missed the match entirely due to a fitness a problem.

The most pressing injury concern is Pablo Mari’s. The Spaniard, who was making just his third start for the club, suffered an ankle problem and was withdrawn for David Luiz with disastrous consequences. It has now been confirmed by David Ornstein and the Athletic that Mari will miss the remainder of the season with an ankle ligament/tendon injury.

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For Mari, it is disastrous news. As he was hoping to earn a permanent move to the club following his loan arrival in January, it will be hugely difficult for Arsenal to make a decision on his future now. However, his absence certainly opens the door for others in the squad, especially with Luiz suspended and Sokratis not yet fit. In fact, at present, Arteta has just two fit and available centre-backs. One of those suffered a knock against City. The other is Rob Holding.

After tearing his ACL last year, Holding has failed to get and stay fit this season. He has made just seven starts all season. Only one of those has come in the Premier League while Arteta has handed him just three appearances, of which only one was a start. After an encouraging start to the 2018/19 season under Unai Emery, it was hoped that Holding could finally step into a starting centre-back role. The injury, and subsequent battle to get fit, has laid waste to that idea.

However, now Arteta may have no choice but to turn to Holding, who was left out of the matchday squad entirely on Wednesday. Shkodran Mustafi, it is hoped, will be fit to continue as the leading centre-back, while Holding may be forced into a starting role, whether he is ready or not. This, then, is his chance.

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Given the competitiveness at the position, the arrival of William Saliba, and the anticipated spending in the summer window, this might be Holding’s final chance to stake his claim. He cannot afford to squander this opportunity, however slow and short of match-sharpness he might have looked so far this season.

Even in Arsenal’s warm-up fixture versus Brentford, Holding looked extremely slow, struggling to turn with attacking players and close down the ball. Arsenal conceded twice in which Holding did not seem to be particularly sharp. Of course, practise matches are very different to competitive play, but it tells the story of his season thus far.

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Despite his struggles for form and fitness, however, the 24-year-old now has a chance to start, to play well, and to impress Arteta. Can he take it?

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