Feature

What Ben White will bring to Arsenal

By Aaron Catterson-Reid

Arsenal this week completed the signing of Ben White from Brighton on a long-term contract.

The Gunners' new centre half enjoyed three fruitful loan spells in the English footballing ladder before establishing himself with the Seagulls last season.

White consistently produced noteworthy displays last term, featuring 36 times in the Premier League as his standout performances earned him a place in England's Euro 2020 squad.

Defensive Skills

White's defensive versatility is a clear strength given he can perform as both an aggressive or conservative centre back, similar to former Arsenal stalwart Laurent Koscielny in that aspect.

He can also utilise his exceptional speed to good effect, meaning he provides extra defensive solidity in transition, something that the Gunners have lacked since the Frenchman departed in the summer of 2019.

However, like all great defenders, White rarely needs to use his pace to recover. Instead, he positions himself excellently to mop up any stray passes in dangerous areas, reading the game at a level that is reminiscent of a much more experienced defender.

The Englishman averaged 1.24 passes blocked and 1.27 interceptions per game last term, more than any of Arsenal's centre halves registered in either category. In fact, White's 44 passes blocked last season was bettered by only two Premier League centre backs, a hugely-impressive feat considering he is still just 23-years-old.

Ball-Playing Ability

Furthermore, when White regains the ball for his side, he also progresses it efficiently. He showcased last year that he is one of the most reliable ball-playing defenders in the country.

The former Leeds United star notched 116 progressive passes and 20 passes into the final third last season, placing him second and third in these respective categories out of all Premier League centre-backs.

His rare blend of ability to pass the ball diagonally and between the lines will likely be something that caught the eyes of Arsenal chief executive Edu given the Gunners have been looking for a defender to replace the departing David Luiz in Mikel Arteta's backline.

White can also dribble his way out from defence, carrying the ball with great poise and elegance that is reminiscent of a cultured midfielder, not a tough-tackling centre half.

The English international registered 24 successful dribbles and 37 progressive carries last term, placing him second and fourth respectively in the Premier League when comparing him to other central defenders.

Fitting in

White's aforementioned versatility makes him a manager's dream as he can play in various different positions, featuring 26 times as a centre half, three times as a right back and seven times as a defensive midfielder in the Premier League last season.

How Arsenal lined up in possession last season

How Arsenal could line up in possession this season

The Dorset-born youngster will likely be deployed by Arteta as a right-sided centre back in the Spaniard's favoured 4-2-3-1 system, which has often looked like a 3-2-5 in possession, with Granit Xhaka tucking in as a left sided centre-back during the build-up phase.

However, White's notable ability on the ball and physical prowess may mean that the Gunners opt to switch their setup to a 2-3-5, similar to what Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola has frequently deployed.

This will give Arsenal's backline a new dimension when building from the back due to the extra body in midfield to help receive the ball and beat the press. 

White will likely partner Gabriel at the heart of the north London club's defence, a duo that possesses a rare blend of pace, intelligence and ability to progress the ball. Furthermore, the Brazilian has a penchant for playing cross-field balls but struggles to consistently play passes between the lines, something that White excels at.

Similarly, White's biggest weakness is perhaps his ability in the air, a facet of Gabriel's game that is extremely strong. The former Lille defender won 3.27 successful aerial duels per 90 minutes last term, more than double what White averaged.

By pairing two centre halves that complement each other and can hide each other's flaws, Arteta may have found a partnership that can enjoy the same success that Per Mertesacker and the aforementioned Koscielny enjoyed under Arsene Wenger's tutelage.

His skillset is also suited for games against top teams that play with a high defensive line. Only six Premier League centre backs attempted more through balls than White in the 2020/21 campaign, something that will greatly excite Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who enjoys making runs in behind opposition backlines.

White's new Arsenal teammate Bukayo Saka has previously admitted that he holds the young defender in high regard.

"I was impressed the most by Ben White because obviously, I haven’t seen him a lot this season,” Saka told ITV Sport when asked which England player impressed him the most in training this summer. "Coming here and playing with him I’ve been impressed with him."

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