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Holding: ‘We don’t aspire to be like Chelsea’

Arsenal defender Rob Holding believes Chelsea are a ‘competitive rival’ for the Gunners but not a club they aspire to be like.

The 25-year-old spoke with the Guardian about Arsenal’s 2020-21 season and his hopes of being called up to the England national team this summer:

“When the squads were being announced I had my eye on it, you never know, so I was looking. It didn’t happen for me this time but that’s not going to deter me or make me feel it’s never going to.

“It was a grind to get into the manager’s thoughts after my injury, In pre-season it was up in the air whether I’d go out and get a year of playing time, but he kept me around and I managed to repay that faith by putting in a decent shift all season.

“We really struggled, we just couldn’t find the net and were just trying to hold on to games. The best result we were trying to get was a 0-0 because we weren’t scoring, so we were just trying to stop the opposition. It was something that followed us around in each game, and it was tough. At times there were real lows around the camp and it was about how we could refocus, and try to go into matches with a different mentality.

“When we were playing every three or four days and had no crowd, going again in front of an empty stadium, it did feel like a slog,” he says. “With fans coming back now, it’s crazy how different it feels, how much more energy there is on the pitch. When you make a tackle or a block and a big cheer goes up, then you’re excited for the next bit of play rather than just blocking it, hearing nothing and then thinking, like, ‘Oh’.

“I see Chelsea as a competitive rival for us, I don’t see them as a team we aspire to be like, and I don’t think they see us that way either. There’s a mutual respect between us and a recent history with FA Cup finals and playing each other in big games. I don’t think that, because they won the Champions League, we need to be more like Chelsea. Our results and league position need to improve, of course, but when we play each other it’s competitive.

“We’ve got to be aiming to get back in the Champions League, with no Europe this season we’ve got no distractions or fixture congestion and can really focus on our Premier League games. I think Liverpool did the same a few years ago, and Chelsea similarly when they won the league in Antonio Conte’s first year. So it can be a blessing in disguise in some aspects. We’ve just got to think of it that way and hit the ground running.

“I think that comes with the six-week break we had, rather than rolling from one season to the next, we can let the dust settle a bit and start with a clean slate. The first six games are huge for setting your tempo and Brentford away on a Friday, at their new stadium, will be a great occasion.

“If we can find the goals and keep the defensive record, we should be in with a shout.”