In the 2019 summer transfer window, Arsenal signed David Luiz from Chelsea for a fee believed to be in the region of £8 million.
The acquisition of the Brazilian international brought plenty of criticism from the Arsenal fan base, with many frustrated with the club yet again handing out contracts to players who the Blues deemed surplus to requirements.
Certainly, Luiz wasn’t doing himself any favours under the stewardship of former Gunners boss Unai Emery, making costly errors regularly and it appeared to be another example of the club recruiting poorly.
In the presence of Mikel Arteta however, a significant difference was observed.
With the Spaniard favouring structure and ensuring players along the backline weren’t exposed frequently, Luiz was one of many individuals who thrived under the former Manchester City assistant coach.
The isolated moments of madness were still present but his pros outweighed his cons and the 34-year-old gave a high level of reliability in the Arsenal back three or four.
Leadership, a strong influence on the younger players, dominance in aerial duels, tremendous passing abilities showcased primarily during the build-up phase were just a few traits Luiz brought to the table.
Not to mention his impact during the 2020 FA Cup triumph, delivering stellar performances against both Manchester City and Chelsea in the semi-final and final.
With Luiz leaving the club last summer, Arsenal needed to fill the void the 6 ft 3 in defender left with someone who possesses stylistically similar attributes but also gives that extra bit more.
William Saliba was touted to be a crucial first-team member following a successful loan spell at OGC Nice but the Arsenal boss decided that the former Saint-Etienne prospect needed an additional year away from the club in order to quicken his development and eliminate the rawness within his game.
So it was a case of who in the market would be a feasible option and Arteta decided the man to fill the void was Dorset born defender Ben White.
Signed for a fee believed to be in the region of £50 million, the former Brighton centre back came to his new club with a hefty price tag, with many questioning the logic of spending substantial money for his signature.
But when elements are broken down into their constituent parts, it’s very understandable to see why Arsenal were willing to invest significant funds on the player.
The education White received under two progressive managers in Marcelo Bielsa and Graham Potter, pivotal to his early development, ensured that he understands exactly what’s required to succeed in the modern game.
For both coaches, White was given significant responsibility in possession, tasked with quickening the transition from defence to attack through either progressive passing or carrying the ball into the opposition half.
From an out of possession perspective, both Brighton and Leeds operated with a high line, meaning that not only was it imperative that central defenders, in particular, were accurate in duels upfield, but were also able to defend in isolation and recover swiftly into a deeper position when necessary; all aspects White offered in abundance.
The consistent performance levels delivered were rewarded with player of the year awards in succession for both clubs and when considering that the 24-year-old’s profile is tailored to a possession-based outfit, it made perfect sense to see why Arteta insisted on him being a solution.
Life in north London however didn’t start the way White envisaged, with Brentford striker Ivan Toney prevailing in their individual battle.
But assessing the big-money summer signing in one isolated fixture was incredibly unfair, given the fact that clear mitigating circumstances were present as the Gunners went into the season opener without their entire spine.
Fast forward to today and it’s fair to say that White has been delivering week in week out and is on course to having a sensational first year in an Arsenal shirt, with last Thursday’s performance against Wolves a great game to illustrate his creative influence.
A playmaker from deep
A common tendency with many defenders under pressure is to ‘get rid’ once the ball is within their zone. Whilst the initial danger is prevented, this particular action results in losing possession more often than not.
White’s style of play however revolves around control and remaining calm in all scenarios.
Whenever the Englishman has to anticipate and prevent an opposition attack, usually his first instinct is to try and influence the game offensively, with the two frames below providing further details.
White initially shows calmness when dealing with the bouncing ball, evades the pressure applied by Wolves attacker Hwang Hee-Chan, before showcasing progressive qualities with an excellent forward pass into Bukayo Saka’s feet.
The frame above is also a great example to illustrate White’s prowess in possession, with very few Premier League central defenders capable of matching him in this regard, yet somehow the former Leeds defender still manages to go under the radar in this department.
Arsenal’s frontline consists of exceptional talent, with Martin Odegaard, Emile Smith Rowe and Saka all showered with immense praise for their creative input and rightly so, but without White, none of these talents would be as effective.
Moving the ball from deep to the final third is an incredibly underrated quality, as it prevents attackers from having to drop into their own half frequently to receive the ball.
White’s presence however allows the aforementioned trio to predominantly occupy advanced positions, thereby giving them the platform to flourish around the opponent’s box.
To have a player who is capable of breaking down opposition structure and creating superiorities is imperative to positional play and White’s ball-playing abilities ensures that accessing the final third becomes much easier.
The two frames below provide a visual representation, with the Arsenal number four delivering inch-perfect threaded passes into the feet of Odegaard and Saka.
Whilst his ground passes are crucial to Arsenal progressing past the first and second phases of play, White’s longer passes act as a relief valve, pivotal to direct chance creation, with the frame below showing this.
White scans his surroundings, recognises Odegaard dropping deep which draws the attention of Wolves’ left wingback Rayan Aït-Nouri and delivers an exquisite ball over the top for Saka to latch onto.
What’s also been very noticeable is that although these types of passes may not always lead to a direct creative opportunity, the areas in which these balls are delivered in naturally helps push the team further forward, since the opposing player tasked to deal with the situation either clears the ball out of play or into spaces where Arsenal players can potentially capitalise on second balls.
His passing ability is undeniable, but arguably White’s standout trait is the aggression he shows in advanced positions, which is crucial to the Gunners’ overall ability in sustaining pressure and keeping the opposition camped deep within their own half.
The England international thrives in duels past the halfway line and has the knack of diverting the ball towards the path of a teammate nearby which yet again shows his willingness to not only prevent transitions but also to regain control and allow the frontline to kickstart another attack.
Prior to the season commencing, both White and Gabriel had never played a game together but on paper, it looked like a partnership that would blossom and it’s safe to say that they have complemented each other brilliantly.
From a statistical point of view, in the nineteen games the two have started together in as a pair, Arteta’s side have managed nine clean sheets, with just eighteen goals conceded in total, demonstrating how crucial they have been in offering stability in front of Aaron Ramsdale.
Two young stars, confident in operating high up the pitch, possess desirable speed to recover and are comfortable in possession; aspects which are needed in order for Arteta to successfully implement his footballing philosophy.
White has settled into life at the Emirates quickly and despite the continuous pressure of being labelled a £50 million player, he hasn’t shown any signs of crumbling.
A polished central defender, capable of influencing the game in multiple zones by offering an abundance of versatility and what’s frightening is that he is yet to hit his peak.
I really hope you enjoyed the read and any comments would be much appreciated. If you would like to know more about me, follow my Twitter account @RjArsenalBlog, which is where you can access all previous articles.
24-year-old Gooner who loves talking and writing about football