It will not be a transfer window without Arsenal making some sort of impact. The Gunners had a truly dismal 2020-21 season punctuated by their 8th-placed finish which leaves them without European football for the first time in almost 30 years. That coupled with fan anger towards the Kroenke ownership due to its involvement with the European Super League, the team’s downfall was stark. With that in mind, they have now completed the signing of Ben White from Brighton.
Josh Kroenke promised new signings this summer and they have looked good on their word so far. Despite some fans being on the fence regarding Mikel Arteta’s continuation as manager, the arrivals of youngsters Nuno Tavares (left-back) and Albert Sambi Lokonga (central midfielder) followed. Now, they have captured arguably their main target till now in Brighton and England defender Ben White for £50m.
Sorry we're late…
Traffic was a nightmare 😉 pic.twitter.com/sO1T9981Rw
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) July 30, 2021
The 23-year-old enjoyed a stellar breakthrough season with the Seagulls in his first full season at this level. Will he become the answer to Arsenal’s long-standing defensive woes? FootTheBall grades this important piece of business for the Gunners and what the club can expect from him this season.
First things first, White does have experience enough for a defender to tackle the expectations at Arsenal. He has played across all four divisions in England over the past four seasons. White was a constant fixture for Leeds United as they achieved promotion in 2020, playing all 46 games while on loan.
Something Leeds fans have become accustomed to seeing is Ben White carrying the ball forwards and beating the first man. Of all the Championship defenders to have made 20+ successful dribbles, Ben White has the highest percentage of completed take-ons (83%) this season (24/29). pic.twitter.com/QUucb6MSj4
— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) June 29, 2020
There were the first seeds of his promise evident with a passing accuracy of 85% and a dribbling success rate of 74%. Coming back to link up with Brighton, Marcelo Bielsa tried in vain to sign White on a permanent basis. He went on to become a vital cog in Graham Potter’s three-man defence alongside Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk. In 36 games, he helped the team keep 11 clean sheets on their way to a 16th-placed finish.
Ben White’s 20/21 Premier League season by numbers:
35.5 full 90s played
111 passes to final third
101 tackles + interceptions
69 blocks (25 shots, 44 passes)
53% aerial duels won
37 dribbles to final third
— Albion Analytics (@AlbionAnalytics) June 24, 2021
What has been most revealing about his style of play and why Arteta was so keen on him is his assuredness on the ball. Indeed, White loves to play the ball out the back, ranking first in both ‘most dribbles completed (24)’ and ‘most carries with take-ons (18)’ by central defenders in the Premier League. Furthermore, he makes 1.75 interceptions P90 with 40% of his passes being to teammates further up the pitch.
Tough one to take last night. My only focus is on putting things right on Saturday. pic.twitter.com/hFxzuIQwgW
— Benjamin White (@ben6white) February 23, 2021
Combining all of these facets of his game makes it clearer as to why Arsenal were fixated on White from the start. Even his England call-up before Euro 2020 felt like a surprise to many but Gareth Southgate explained that the player’s versatility and calm nature on the ball influenced his decision. Though he was an injury replacement, there is no doubt that Arteta and others have seen a lot of potential in White for the future with his stock set to rise at the Emirates.
VALUE FOR MONEY
This is one of the big talking points regarding this whole transfer saga. Many supporters of the club believe that the £50m price tag is too high for a player who only has one Premier League season under his belt. Furthermore, White is yet to make his continental debut as well while his England appearances also came under Southgate’s grand plan of calling up 33 players to practice before the Euros.
— Benjamin White (@ben6white) June 2, 2021
When Leeds were looking to sign him in 2020, they valued White at £25m which Brighton found too little. Given the fact the White’s stock has risen due to his ability to play as a right-back or in midfield on occasions, there is little doubt that the Seagulls will be very happy with the amount of money they got back.
You can see how Ben White will improve the buildup play at #Arsenal. However, many of his best bits come from the right side of a three, with the security of Dunk beside him. Both him and Gabriel are going to have to be disciplined when going forward. #afc https://t.co/JeGRD3Siay
— Adam Keys (@adamkeys_) July 26, 2021
The angst surrounding the valuation of White also rises from the fact of what Arsenal’s rivals in the league are doing. Liverpool bought Ibrahim Konate from RB Leipzig for around £30m while Manchester United are on the verge of signing Raphael Varane for the same price as White or even less. The latter is the main sticking point given the difference of experience and level at which both play.
OFFICIAL: Arsenal announce the signing of defender Ben White from Brighton.
He becomes their third most-expensive signing of all time 🤑 pic.twitter.com/NrvunLPcLk
— B/R Football (@brfootball) July 30, 2021
Varane has been a serial winner at Real Madrid in Spain and in Europe along with being an established star for France. The whole acquisition of White might be the result of the Korenkes knowing they have to please the fanbase while improving their very suspect defence. Additionally, the departure of David Luiz and another loan spell for William Saliba makes this transfer more of a required signing.
FIT AT THE CLUB
As already mentioned, Arsenal needed a defender who could replace the ball-handler Luiz. There is little doubt that White will fit right in in the back-line alongside Gabriel or Rob Holding. It does look like Pablo Mari is still not fully trusted by Arteta yet as evidenced by only 10 appearances in the league last term.
24'—David Luiz comes on
45'—Error leads to Man City goal
49'—Concedes penalty and gets sent off
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 17, 2020
White is adept at handling the right side of the defence so it makes sense for him to be used as a right-back too if needed. That will give Arteta another reason to feel optimistic for this season if White hits the ground running. Arteta has been shifting his centre-backs around but White’s presence will alleviate some of that. Additionally, playing out from the back has become the norm for Arteta who believes in maintaining possession while patiently building up to create chances.
Needless to say, Arsenal’s expectations from their major buy will be quite high. White has shown over the last two seasons that he can compete with the best of England’s top two tiers. In fact, he has not made a single error leading to a shot or goal in the past 82 games which is more cause for celebration.
"I’d argue White even has a higher ceiling than Maguire"
"He’ll be a huge success" (at Arsenal)
— LTArsenal™ (@ltarsenal) July 16, 2021
The main aim surrounding the club is of course getting back Champions League football while competing for trophies. That seems a bit of a stretch in White’s debut season, more so because scoring goals was a major problem for them last season. The 55 goals they netted is the fewest in the top nine which means getting a creative player or striker is imperative.
Tammy Abraham and Arsenal could be a perfect match… the boyhood Gunners fan was more clinical than Aubameyang last season and has the drive to lift them up the table https://t.co/iSD5FeVQEP
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) July 22, 2021
The 2020-21 season was a major low point in Arsenal’s illustrious history and they will look to quickly put it behind them. The weight on White’s shoulders will be immense to get the club back to where they feel they belong. If he can integrate himself well within the team and manager’s plans, Arsenal are sure to improve.