'It will be coming full circle' - Holding ready for emotional Old Trafford return

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The Arsenal star returns to Old Trafford for the first time on Monday night since suffering a serious knee injury against Manchester United last year

It’s been 10 months since Rob Holding lay on the touchline at Old Trafford clutching his left knee.

At the time he thought he had only suffered ‘a bit of a bump’ after going down under a challenge from Marcus Rashford, but it soon dawned on the Arsenal defender that things could be more serious.

Just a day later his worst fears were realised, with a scan confirming he had ruptured his cruciate ligament and would spend the rest of the season in the treatment room.

It’s been a long and painful road back to fitness for Holding, but he is now back with the first team and on Tuesday he made his first senior appearance since December - scoring in a 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest.

It was a special night for the 24-year-old, who finished the game as captain, and on Monday night he will return to Old Trafford for the first time since his injury when Arsenal take on Manchester United looking to move up to third in the Premier League.

“It will be coming full circle,” admitted Holding. “Even if I am on the bench it will be brilliant to just walk back to the spot that it happened, take it in and have a bit of a moment.

“I suppose you could say it is a bit of closure. For it to happen there and then your first [league] game involved is back there. It will be interesting, but I look forward to it.”

Holding’s injury during the 2-2 draw at Old Trafford last season came at a time when he was arguably Arsenal’s best central defender.

He had made himself a permanent fixture in the team under Unai Emery, often playing in a back three alongside Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi.

“It was my first long-term run in the team so it couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” the former Bolton man admitted.

Rob Holding Man Utd Arsenal 05122018

“I was getting a rhythm by getting into the team and being, say, the first name on the teamsheet. You know yourself you are going to play and you can really get in a rhythm. 

“That’s why it was tough to take, but I just worked on the process and understood each step. Credit to the club again for the way they dealt with it and helping me get back.”

Less than a month after rupturing his cruciate ligament, Holding was sitting in the stands at the Emirates watching Arsenal take on Chelsea.

He saw Hector Bellerin collapse in agony clutching his knee and, when his friends sent a video of the incident to his phone, the centre-back knew his team-mate had suffered the same injury.

It was a moment that reduced Holding to tears.

“I was sat with my girlfriend and I saw the video in the group chat with my friends,’ he said. “I thought 'oh no!' Because it was so raw for me it hit a spot and I got a bit emotional with it.

“I was two weeks post-op when he went down, I was sat up there watching the game and it was really emotional for me to see him getting stretchered off and holding his knee.”

Having suffered the same injury so close together, Holding and Bellerin have undergone their rehabilitation side by side.

While their team-mates have been making their way out to the training pitches at London Colney every day, they have instead been going through their own painstaking recovery process.

So it was fitting to see both return for the first time on Tuesday night during the Carabao Cup win against Nottingham Forest.

Hector Bellerin Arsenal 2019-20

It was a memorable night at the Emirates, with Holding scoring the second goal in the 5-0 win and Bellerin registering an assist less than two minutes after coming on as a second-half substitute.

“The long days in the gym where we had been sat on a watt bike just ticking over for 30-40 minutes, they’d been dark times,” said Holding.

“For us to both come out and put in a performance like that and for Hector to come on and get an assist straight away was a real pleasure to see.”

Like Holding and Bellerin, Kieran Tierney also made his first appearance of the season as Forest were brushed aside at the Emirates.

The £25 million ($31m) summer signing from Celtic has been sidelined while recovering from a double hernia operation and impressed on his debut at left-back.

There is a growing clamour from fans for all three to been thrown straight into a back four that has struggled so far this season, with Arsenal conceding 10 goals in their opening six matches in the Premier League.

And it’s something that Holding is aware of.

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“I was speaking with Kieran and we were saying there is actually a bit of pressure on me, Hector and him,” said the centre-back. “Obviously the fans have been putting a lot of pressure on saying: ‘We need those three back, hopefully they can perform’.

“It is a healthy pressure. It is not a sort of draining pressure if you know what I mean. It is a nice pressure and it is the competition.

“We have been pushing each other in the last couple of weeks in training as to who is going to perform better and who is going to play. We will see what the manager does. It is a good problem for him to have.”

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