Ben White is expected to join Arsenal
Ben White is expected to join Arsenal

Ben White to Arsenal: What will defender bring to Mikel Arteta's side?


With England international Ben White expected to join Arsenal from Brighton for a reported £50m, Tom Carnduff looks at what the defender will bring to the north London club, and whether he is the right fit for Mikel Arteta's Gunners rebuild.


Consistency

Ben White may have only one season of top-flight football under his belt, but last term he played 36 of the Seagulls' 38 Premier League games.

Combine that with the fact that he played all 46 games during a loan spell at Leeds as they won the Sky Bet Championship title in 2019/20 and it's clear to see how reliable - and robust - a central defender he is.

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He may only be 23, but White has already made more than 150 professional appearances, a total helped by another 40+ return of games during a temporary switch to League Two side Newport back in 2017/18, when he first started to turn heads.

Through a combination of poor form, injury and player departures, Arsenal's backline has chopped and changed since Mikel Arteta arrived at the helm in December 2019.


Minutes played by Arsenal centre-backs in 2020/21 Premier League

  • Rob Holding - 2558
  • Gabriel Magalhaes - 1997
  • David Luiz - 1399
  • Pablo Mari - 900

Looking at last season, the 3195 minutes White was on the pitch dwarfs that of all four Arsenal centre-backs.

The fact no Brighton player featured more than him in the Premier League in 2020/21 shows just how crucial a player he was to a team regularly praised for their performances, even if the results didn't always reflect those showings.

At £50m you'd expect White to be a certain starter, so at least Arteta now seemingly has one fewer places to fill in central defence.

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Ball-playing ability

White's ability with the ball is what has caught the eye of most admirers. It's safe to assume Arsenal have identified him for that reason more than any other.

Arteta wants his centre-backs to be able to pick out a pass or carry the ball out themselves, and White ticks both of those boxes.

He completed three times as many successful dribbles as Arsenal's most prolific centre-back, Rob Holding, in last season's Premier League. In fact, White's 24 successful dribbles was the most of any centre-back in the division.

Successful dribbles per 95 - Ben White

His ability to pick out a pass is another huge strength that could help the Gunners release their pacey wide players and quickly move up the pitch.

Eight key passes across the 2020/21 season put White among the leading centre-backs in the division.

Versatility

Though primarily a centre-back, White featured in defensive midfield for both Brighton and Leeds, and has also stepped in at right wing-back under Graham Potter. At Albion he has been part of a back three, at Leeds it was a back four.

For Arsenal, in a system that features two defensive midfielders, White has the right credentials to play just in front of the backline if needed.

Arteta has also used a back-three system plenty of times, depending on the opposition, so a player like White will be ideal for switching between formations.

Such versatility may go some way to explaining the transfer fee too. There won't be many more flexible defensive players on the market.

Top-class defender

Without trying to go too 'old school' with the explanation, a defender's job is ultimately to stop the other team scoring.

Interceptions per 95 - Ben White

While he did play more minutes, White's total interceptions tally was well above any of Arsenal's four centre-backs during the 2020/21 season.

His 62 is more than double that of Gabriel's 25. Interestingly, it's also nearly four times that of the now former Gunners defender David Luiz.

Those numbers can be given further context too, as Brighton use of a back-three naturally shares out the interceptions because of the extra man in the defensive trio. Playing as part of a pair in 2019/20 for Leeds, his 116 interceptions was the highest of any player in the Championship.

Tackle-wise he's no slouch either, with his 49 higher than any Arsenal player last term. Holding does edge him on tackles per 95 minutes, but only narrowly.

The ideal partner

With a price tag of £50m, we can be very confident that, barring suspension or injury, White will be a regular starter in this Arsenal side. But if they persist with a back-four, who is he likely to start alongside in the heart of defence?

If there is one thing White is perhaps short of, it is aerial presence.

For all of his composure in possession and a clear ability to create attacking opportunities, physicality isn't a strong point. That's reflected in the low number of aerial duels won for a player in his position.

The good news for Arsenal fans is that it is something they are already good at. They have options who are returning strong numbers in that area.

Aerial duels per 95 - Ben White and Arsenal defenders

The Gunners conceded the fewest goals from corners and free-kicks in the Premier League last season, and much of that can be put down to the aerial strength of their centre-back options.

Both Mari and Gabriel are left-footed too, so White's arrival as a right-footed defender provides additional balance, should Arteta be seeking it.

What is easy to forget is that only last summer Arsenal splashed out almost £30m to sign Gabriel from Lille.

The £50m spent on White could be seen as an attempt to provide the aggressive, natural defender with the ball-playing partner he needs to truly thrive in the Premier League.

Both players are 23-years-old. If they prove to be the rock upon which this next period of Arsenal success is built, a combined £80m will seem like a relative snip.


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