The signing of Ben White from Brighton and Hove Albion may prove to be Arsenal’s most significant summer acquisition in more ways than one. The Gunners, whose purse strings have been notoriously tight in recent years, surprisingly splashed £50 million to secure the services of the Seagulls’ England international. Some Gunners fans will have raised their eyebrows at spending such a big sum on a defender, but his arrival could be transformative to the way Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal plays.
The Two-pronged Benefits of White’s Arrival at the Emirates
The Arsenal squad is still some way short of being recognised as title contenders, with the latest Premier League 2021/22 odds placing the North London side as sixth favourites behind Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City, before the opening day. However, they could prove to be a value each-way wager if White’s presence can unleash some of Arsenal’s more attack-minded players in the final third.
For instance, being able to utilise Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s speed on the counter is something the Gunners need to exploit more in 2021/22. The Gabon international endured a torrid time last season and the latest Premier League tips for the 2021/22 top-scorer suggest the 32-year-old is an outsider again for the EPL golden boot at 20/1. That’s due largely to his impending international duty in January 2022. White’s ball-paying attributes should enable him to start attacks from the back and there’ll be occasions when White can bypass the midfield and play through the lines to the likes of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, turning defence into attack within the blink of an eye.
It’s important to remember that White’s a seasoned defender that’s both comfortable with the ball at his feet and no slouch without it either. The thinking is that White’s presence will enable the Gunners to play a higher defensive line and bring their midfield schemers into play more readily. The likes of Rob Holding and released veteran defender David Luiz have never been comfortable holding such a high line, which in turn left Arsenal having to start moves from much deeper than they would ordinarily like.
Playing through the lines from the back is something that used to be Luiz’s speciality, but the Brazilian rarely showcased his creative qualities at the Emirates. White’s statistics during 2020/21 compare very favourably with the likes of Holding and Luiz. He completed more dribbles, passes and progressive carries than both, which will be music to the ears of Arteta.
Brighton boss Graham Potter was loathed to see White leave the Amex Stadium this summer. However, after a sterling 2020/21 EPL campaign and the honours of being selected for the England squad at this summer’s Euro 2020 finals, White’s £50 million value was something that the Seagulls simply couldn’t turn down. Potter says the money will be used to help the “club to improve” and to “keep growing”, having only been a Premier League outfit since 2017.
It says a lot that Leeds United’s iconic head coach Marcelo Bielsa was prepared to break the bank to sign White from Brighton after their promotion-winning season in 2019/20. The Argentine has a thirst for dynamic yet elegant footballers that can turn defence into attack in an instant. He remains a huge admirer of White’s talents. It’s not every day that a ball-playing centre-half becomes available and Arsenal have played their cards right to position White at the heart of the Gunners’ developing style and structure.
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