If there was ever a man to toughen up Arsenal it was Jens Lehmann.
Since returning as first-team coach last summer, a few of the German’s home truths have seen him butt heads with Rob Holding, but the Gunners defender wouldn’t have it any other way.
Some of Lehmann’s antics ranged from the comical to the downright barmy during his five-year playing career at Arsenal, including rather infamous spats with Didier Drogba and Kevin Phillips.
He was never afraid to tell his team-mates exactly what he thought, either – but there’s a reason he is the last goalkeeper to have won the Premier League title as a Gunner.
No wonder then that Arsene Wenger brought him back to a modern-day Arsenal side that is perceived to have a soft underbelly.
After a miserable run of form Arsenal have recently shown they indeed have the stomach for the fight and 22-year-old Holding, who is still cutting his teeth in the Premier League, wants all the tough love he can get.
“Jens has been a big difference since he’s come in,” Holding told Sport360. “He’s very demanding and not afraid to get down and dirty with you – he’ll get at you and I’ll have a little snap back.
“But then after training we’ll speak about it and we’ll come to an agreement on what went on and then the next day it’s like nothing happened.
“There’s no grudges held and it’s what I think is the key to getting the best out of me. You’re more aggressive and more demanding as a consequence and that’s what I need to be as a centre-half.”
It helps to have tough skin as an Arsenal player after a season in which the spotlight has only intensified – languishing 13 points behind the Premier League’s top four.
Since proving a star turn by shackling Diego Costa in the FA Cup final last season, Holding has had his fair share of personal ups and downs.
His last league match was most definitely an up, however, as against Watford and Troy Deeney – who said Arsenal lacked ‘cojones’ back in October – Holding didn’t give them a sniff.
And after that particular confidence-booster, the former Bolton centre-back has warned Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi that he’s coming for their starting berths in defence.
“I’d say the first half of the season was a bit in and out, with the cup competitions, and then since late January it’s been a real knuckle down, cracking on with it and doing what I need to do,” added Holding, who was in the UAE visiting the set-up at Arsenal Soccer Schools Dubai. “The manager’s noticing it and against Watford I felt like I had a really good, solid game.
“He knows that I’m there, pushing, and any little mistakes from Koscielny and Mustafi or slight injuries, I want to be the first one that he’s looking to.
“I think I’ve improved on things like heading, defending crosses, things like that and being more physical.
“I had Troy Deeney (against Watford), I knew he’d be more of a physical presence. I tried to be smarter as well, I didn’t try and fight with him as he’s a bigger guy anyway!”
Established in 2009, five years after Emirates became a major sponsor of the Premier League club, Arsenal Soccer Schools Dubai – which is open to boys and girls of all ages and ability – gives children the chance to learn how to ‘Play the Arsenal Way’.
The training programme is designed to help young players develop their technical skills and passion for the game, ensuring they have a platform to reach their potential. Arsenal Soccer Schools Dubai is permanently based at The Sevens, a dedicated sporting venue in Dubai.
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