Will Ben White Live Up to his Price Tag?
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta looked to bolster his defensive options in the transfer window. The Spaniard quickly moved for English defender Ben White, one of his first signings of the summer.
White arrived from Premier League rivals Brighton for £50 million in July. The defender followed other young defenders Nuno Tavares, 21, and Albert Sambi Lokonga, 21, as Arteta hopes to re-shape his ageing defence from previous seasons.
The 23-yard old arrived at the Emirates with high expectations following an impressive season with Brighton in the 2020/21 season. White’s £50 million price tag makes him the third most expensive player in Arsenal’s history. He is also the third most costly English defender ever, just behind Harry Maguire (£80 million) and Kyle Walker (£53 million).
As a result, there will be expectations in North London for White to establish himself quickly at the heart of Arsenal’s defence.
Defensive Potential and Consistency
White has the potential to become Arsenal’s leading centre-back. He started 36 out of 38 Premier League matches for Brighton last season and formed a resolute partnership with Lewis Dunk. White’s defensive contributions helped Brighton avoid relegation and finish with the best defensive record in the bottom half of the table, with 46 goals conceded.
But White’s breakthrough season on loan at Leeds in the Championship in 2019/20 was even more impressive. The centre back played all 46 matches under Marcelo Bielsa and helped the Whites to the Championship title. Throughout Leeds’ title-winning campaign two seasons ago, White formed a formidable partnership with skipper Liam Cooper. The duo helped the Yorkshire side maintain the best defensive record in the division as they conceded just 35 goals all season.
White’s consistency will be key to his success at Arsenal. He has been an ever-present defender at both Brighton and Leeds over the past two seasons. This impressive form, and the ability to shift from the Championship to the Premier League with few problems, saw Gareth Southgate select White for the European Championships over the summer.
For Arsenal, White’s ability to form partnerships at centre back will be crucial. Few central defensive partnerships have succeeded since Mikel Arteta took over at Arsenal. The likes of David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi provided experience in Arsenal’s defence, but the pair rarely produced consistent performances, eventually leading to their recent departures from the club.
With Ben White, Arteta has the chance to build the defence around a consistent performer. Early season selections suggest that White is likely to partner Pablo Mari in central defence, with Rob Holding providing backup in this area. If Mari and White can blend early on, Arsenal could improve on their 39 goals conceded from last season.
Well-Suited to Arsenal’s Style
White is undoubtedly an assured defender, with the potential to grow into a top Premier League centre back. However, his comfort on the ball also makes him well-suited to Arteta’s Arsenal.
Under Bielsa at Leeds and Graham Potter at Brighton, White showed an ability to play out from the back and retain possession. Last season, White ranked highest alongside his central defensive partners (Dunk and Adam Webster) for the most passes per game. The 23-year-old defender completed an average of 46 passes per game, and he had a pass completion rate of 83% per game. He had similar stats whilst at Leeds in 2019/20, completing 84% of his passes per match, the second-most of his Leeds’ teammates during that season.
Rather than sign a defender and mould them into the Arsenal philosophy, Arteta has cleverly recruited a player who is well drilled in keeping the ball already. In White, he has a player who can equally provide defensive solidity and retain possession for his side.
Worth 50 million?
Arsenal have moved away from previous transfer policies of signing experienced but inconsistent players for over the odds prices. Instead, the club have recruited younger players with potential. This is certainly the case with Ben White. At the age of 23, White is approaching his peak and is likely to develop even further in the future. Fans who are looking to back the gunners through Football Betting might be hesitant to favour White in the early part of his career with Arsenal, but with such a huge club backing his talent it’s hard to believe he won’t progress with the right tutelage and fulfil his potential.
However, Arsenal are currently in transition. The club are developing players like Bukayo Saka and Smith-Rowe and signing European prospects like Martin Odegaard and Nuno Tavares. Consequently, this may impact White’s development. As the squad re-builds, the bedding in period may take longer, and Arsenal may not see the best of White immediately in the 2021/22 season.
But, for £50 million, the Gunners have a young, talented defender who has Premier League experience and who is likely to improve year on year. The 23-year-old signed a five-year contract with the North London club, which could prove to be an important caveat to his price tag. Not only will his valuation go up each year, but White will suit Arsenal in the coming years as he provides a defensive foundation the club has lacked in recent seasons.
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