After having to leave Southampton in 2014, perform several loan spells with Newport County, Peterborough and Leeds, Ben White has moved on from Brighton to sign for Arsenal. It’s a well-deserved call-up for the center-back.
The former Seagull defender has faced an interesting yet impressive a year. He received his first England call in the lead-up to the Euros , featuring in warm-up matches against Austria and Romania but not in the tournament.
England manager Gareth Southgate:
We have tracked him [Ben White] since he has been on loan at Leeds, we have seen him play in midfield, we have seen him play across the back line, he is comfortable with the ball, and he has got pace.
However, the turning point for his career was his most notable spell under Marcelo Bielsa, the defender breaking into the first team at the Amex Stadium last season to become one of the top-flight’s stand-out performers.
After the Gunners’ initial bids of £40 million and £47 million were rejected, a fee of £50 million was agreed between the two clubs for the Englishman to move to the Emirates. The 23-year-old returned from holiday on Wednesday to sign paperwork and take his medical.
Arsenal’s wunderkind Bukayo Saka has already made his call of the defender being a success in London and is one of the many fans of the center-half:
I really like Ben White. I think he’s really good on the ball. He’s got composure, [he can use his] left foot or right foot, playing out of the back. Some of the stuff I’ve seen in training has really impressed me because I haven’t seen much of him this season. Seeing him in training I’ve been impressed.
The move makes White the fifth most expensive center-back in Premier League history, but many are questioning the price-tag for the England international who has only 36 Premier League games on his resume.
On the other hand, former Man City defender Dany Mills believes the defender is bigger than his new club:
The only thing I am surprised at is Ben White has gone to Arsenal, Let’s assume that he will be at Arsenal for two or three years at least before he goes somewhere else. I just think he is better than that. What is he going to win at Arsenal? League Cup, if he is lucky. Maybe the FA Cup.
However, the answer to that is yet to be known. What needs asking is: How does Ben White to Arsenal make sense?
At age 16 in 2014, Southampton released White after his youth career there. Later, he signed for Brighton where he joined their academy. The defender made his professional debut on August 9 2016 in the first round of the EPL Cup, a 4-0 win against Colchester.
Interestingly, the youngster has spent three of his last four seasons on loan spells, playing four tiers of English football. He has defended in League Two (Newport County), League One (Peterborough), the Championship (Leeds), and the Premier League (Brighton) — four levels in four years.
White played 46 league matches for Leeds, helping win the Championship. He became the team’s Young Player of the Season, and was included in the Championship’s team of the Year. Most importantly, his vital contributions in the 2019-20 campaign at Elland Road, he helped his side to be promoted to the Premier League after a sixteen-year absence from the top-flight.
Despite offering three bids for White, the ultimate offer estimated at £25 million, Marcelo Bielsa’s side was unable to extend his loan.
This led to the defender enjoying a fantastic debut season in the English top-flight under Graham Potter. White made 39 appearances and kept 12 clean sheets in all competitions for the Seagulls, earning him a place in Gareth Southgate’s 26-man England squad for the Euro 2020.
Style of play
There are four aspects to White’s game that likely attracted Mikel Arteta to want him to join the Gunners: versatility, interceptions, tackling and bringing the ball from the back.
The combination of having played under attack-minded Bielsa and defensive counter-attacking under Potter has helped White grow as a versatile professional player who understands the two biggest aspects of the sport.
White has been put on the right side of a back three alongside captain Lewis Dunk and Adam Webster within Graham Potter’s preferred 3-4-1-2 formation, but he also operated at times in the right-back position during Tariq Lamptey’s extended injury absence.
White averaged 49.23 passes per 90 minutes, completing 40.94 to rank 50th and 48th respectively among center-backs who played at least 660 minutes in the Premier League last season.
Plus, the 23-year-old has shown himself to be equally able to adapt in a defensive midfield role. This is a position where he excelled on plenty of occasions at Leeds and Brighton, even playing the same role in England’s friendly against Austria.
How Will White Fit In At Arsenal?
White’s versatility will afford Mikel Arteta the opportunity to try different formations. The Spaniard prefers to play 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 formation depending on the availability of his attacking players, but when needed, he could utilize White to switch to a 3-4-3 or 3-4-2-1 for a more attack against tougher opponents.
White will directly replace Brazilian David Luiz who has departed the Emirates. White’s an upgrade compared to Rob Holding or Calum Chambers given his composure on the ball, consistency, versatility and defensive duties to partner with either Gabriel Magalhaes or Pablo Mari.
Just like Luiz, White prefers to have the ball at his feet, playing from the back, which is one of his manager’s key principles. Exactly like how a modern center-back is supposed to be, the 23-year-old likes to use his pace to move forward, make aggressive tackles or interceptions, and find gaps to break through the opposing teams.
In the 20 Premier League appearances that Luiz made, he averaged almost 37% forward passes, which neither one of the other center-backs managed to do. Meanwhile, White averaged 40.07% forward passes at Brighton.
In addition, the youngster ended his season with more dribbles (24) than any of the other center-backs.
This just shows how much of an upgrade the Englishman is for the Gunners, having tons of attributes that match Mikel Arteta’s style, and the best part is that he’s still a young player at just 23, which means the Guners have a defender who could continue to develop with them for many years, potentially becoming one of the best center-backs in the league.
At the moment, White’s FPL price-tag is £4.5m at Brighton, but there will be upward movement toward £5, which is still fair for a player who earned 104 points last season. The Gunners conceded seven fewer goals than Brighton and kept one more clean sheet (12), so White’s productivity should continue. Arguably the best defensive asset at the £4.5M price point, he’s sure to find his way into a lot of FPL teams this season.
In Fantrax NMA-11 he’s priced at $8.95. He’s therefore much less attractive in that platform, unless you think he’s going to substantially outperform his average return of 5.33 ppg from last season.
Would you take a chance on Arsenal’s Ben White for your FPL squad?
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What do you know of White? Were you impressed by his performance last season? Do you think you might pick him as an enabler sooner rather than later? Please share in the comments below!