Why Ben White to Arsenal Actually Makes Sense
By Allan Riley
Every few years or so, Arsenal seem to focus much of their transfer target pursuits at one club. Since 2019, both Gabriel Magalhaes and Nicolas Pepe have joined from Lille, and now the club seems poised to buy half of Brighton’s spine.
Mat Ryan’s surprise loan switch in January started this trend, with Mikel Arteta and Edu also long-term admirers of Malian midfield maestro Yves Bissouma.
Both of these signings fit profiles Arsenal are currently looking for. Ryan is a competent shot-stopper (obviously an upgrade on Alex Runarsson) who’s good with the ball at his feet, while Bissouma is the dynamic and mobile midfielder Arsenal need in the middle of the park to replace the imminently outgoing Granit Xhaka, as well as to complement Thomas Partey.
Ben White is the latest name from the seaside club to be linked to the Gunners, with Brighton demanding a £50 million fee for the centre-half. The news has been met with mixed reactions from Arsenal fans, with many believing it'll block the development of William Saliba.
White is a good player. He is confident with the ball at his feet, with an 83% pass accuracy and is a good defender, with 2.85 tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes. He also has a trait that Arsenal’s centre-backs sorely lack. As per @TheArsenalog on Twitter, Arsenal had just 16 shots from ‘fast attacks’ last season. These usually come from penetrative passes from the backline, a trait White possesses.
With Granit Xhaka set to depart the club, and with David Luiz already gone, Arsenal need a player who can progress the ball and provide a decisive and penetrative edge to the team’s build-up. Given that White can provide this, the Englishman could very well become an integral part of Mikel Arteta’s plans, should the move go ahead.
If the transfer does go through, it could also have large ramifications on Arsenal’s current group of central defenders. White’s arrival could spell the end for Rob Holding, who has just signed a new long-term contract. While it would be a surprise, Holding’s value is secured, meaning the club would stand to make a fair bit of money for the ex-Bolton man, possibly enough to cover a large part of the White transfer.
There is also the £27 million, William Saliba shaped conundrum Arteta faces. Following his short-term loan at Nice, it seems to be now or never for the Frenchman. Supporters have been desperate to see Saliba given a chance at the club, with the 20-year-old being lauded for his performances in his homeland.
The “Mbappe of centre-backs” needs to be given an opportunity by Arteta next season. It would be very questionable at best for Saliba to go a third season without playing a competitive minute for the club, and would simply exacerbate the mismanagement of the young defender.
As such, fans have been outraged at White’s potential arrival. How dare Mikel Arteta continue to stifle Saliba’s development? What an injustice. It’s a horrendous transfer, some might say.
Except, not really.
Every top European team has a core of at least three reliable, really good centre-backs. To go into the next campaign with solely Gabriel and Saliba as the main defenders and expect them to play the full season would be an injustice.
Holding and Pablo Mari, while decent players, aren't good enough to be consistent starters, Konstantinos Mavropanos may leave and Calum Chambers appears to be considered purely as a right-back now. Additionally, what happens if either one of Gabriel or Saliba get injured?
While Holding and Mari worked well together as a partnership, neither were particularly impressive alongside Gabriel, who has seemingly locked down that left centre-back spot. They cannot be relied upon as a regular duo.
That centre-back pairing of Gabriel and Saliba is inexperienced at the top level. You cannot expect a 20-year old who has never played in England before to hold his own against wily, experienced Premier League veterans. How do you expect Saliba to deal with someone like Harry Kane? What about Roberto Firmino, or Jamie Vardy? He will need time to bed in.
Conversely, in his first Premier League season, Gabriel proved himself to be quite raw at times, with a number of rash decisions proving that the Brazilian still needs polishing. Having someone like Ben White at the club means that the stopper can push Saliba in terms of a starting spot. Having more competition in that spot can only be good for both White’s and Saliba’s development.
Sure the price tag is a bit over the top, but if Arsenal are willing to shell out £50 million for White, it means that there is money in the transfer kitty, meaning that a move for him won’t break the bank.