How will Arsenal line up with new £50m signing White?

It has taken a while to get over the line, but Arsenal have finally got their man.

The Gunners went into the transfer window wanting to bring in a right sided centre-back, and they have secured their top target, with Ben White arriving from Brighton in a £50 million ($69m) deal. 

The 23-year-old becomes the most expensive defender in Arsenal’s history, and the club’s fourth most expensive signing of all time, with only Nicolas Pepe, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette costing more.

So why were Arsenal prepared to break the bank to sign White, and how will he fit in under Mikel Arteta?

Goal takes a look....

The likely option

Since the Boxing Day victory against Chelsea last season, Arteta has preferred to use a 4-2-3-1 formation.

It is expected that Arsenal will use that system again when they kick-off the new Premier League campaign against Brentford on August 13.

Given the money that the Gunners have spent bringing White to the club, the likelihood is that he will be a guaranteed starter when fit, so the big question is who will play alongside him?

White is a right sided centre-back, so it is tough to see him playing in a pair alongside Rob Holding or Calum Chambers, who both also prefer to play on the right of the central duo.

So his likely partner will be one of either Gabriel Magalhaes or Pablo Mari.

White’s biggest strength is his quality on the ball, but one area that he is not particularly strong is in the air.

And while Mari can be dominant when it comes to winning aerial battles, Gabriel has proven how good he is when it comes to defending crosses.

The Brazilian may have tailed off a bit during the second half of his debut season in England, but it would be a big surprise were he and White not Arteta’s first choice centre-backs when fit during 2021-22.

Three at the back?

While Arteta seems to have settled on using a flat back four, the Spaniard has also enjoyed success at times using three centre-backs.

That was the system that he used when Arsenal won the FA Cup in 2020, and he did switch to it from time to time during the 2020-21 campaign.

The arrival of White could certainly allow Arteta to use that system again, with the England international regularly lining up in a back three under Graham Potter at the Amex Stadium.

What will White bring to Arsenal?

One of the reasons Arsenal were so keen to bring in White was his ability with the ball at his feet.

The summer exit of David Luiz saw Arteta lose his most progressive centre-back, and White is viewed as the ideal replacement for the experienced Brazilian.

His passing ability is excellent as, perhaps more importantly, is his preference to pass the ball forward.

In the Premier League last season, 40.7 per cent of his passes were forward; that is more than any of Arsenal’s central defenders, while only Luiz (11.15) made more passes per 90 minutes than White (10.09) which ended in the final third.

One big advantage White has over Luiz, however, is his ability to avoid making errors.

The ex-Leeds United loanee did not make a single error that led to a goal last season in the Premier League. In fact, in his last two seasons - for Leeds and Brighton - he has not made a single mistake that has even led to a shot on goal in 82 appearances.

So playing in a back three at Arsenal could suit him well, with Gabriel operating alongside him in the central role and Mari on the left.

The versatile option

One of the big positives about White is his ability to play in a number of positions.

Such is his quality on the ball, he can play as a right-back, as he demonstrated against Arsenal on the final day of last season when he played in that position for Brighton at the Emirates Stadium.

With Hector Bellerin’s future still unclear, who plays at right-back for Arsenal this season is far from certain.

Chambers filled that role towards the end of the last campaign and Cedric Soares is still at the club, but White will provide Arteta with another option.

He certainly has no issue running with the ball at his feet. In fact, White completed more dribbles (24) than any other central defender in the Premier League last season.

Opta also shows that he ranked top for carries with take ons (18) - that is seven more than any other centre-back in the top flight and 12 more than Holding, who led the way in terms of Arsenal defenders.

White can even play as a defensive midfielder if needed, as he did for Brighton last season when they were beaten 2-1 at Tottenham.

He reads the game very well. Last season in the Premier League he averaged 1.75 interceptions per 90 minutes; that is far more than Gabriel (1.17), Luiz (1.03), Mari (0.90) and Holding (0.84).

His performances while on loan for Leeds in 2019-20, when he played every minute of their Championship-winning campaign, demonstrated how well he can play when asked to play in a high intensity style, which is how Arteta wants his Arsenal side to operate.

Article continues below

Marcelo Bielsa was desperate to sign White on a permanent basis last summer, such was his level of performance for Leeds. The Yorkshire club submitted several bids for the centre-back, with the highest reaching £25m ($35m), but all were rejected by Brighton.

White's versatility, his quality with the ball, his reading of the game and his ability to move forward when in possession will provide Arteta with multiple options this season, and all were a big factor in Arsenal's decision to push so hard to bring him from the Seagulls.

The debate over his price tag will no doubt continue, but what cannot be questioned is White's quality, and there is no doubt that his arrival will make Arsenal a stronger side during 2021-22.