Arsenal’s defence has been criticized very much over the last decade, and it was the belief of many that the club wouldn’t be winning the league, or anything other than the domestic cups, until they get the back line sorted.
However, recent numbers tell a different story. In 2020-21, Arsenal conceded just 39 goals in the Premier League; only champions Manchester City (32) and fourth-place Chelsea (36) conceded less. Manchester United, who finished second, conceded 44, Liverpool in third 42, and Leicester City in fifth 50. It is, in fact, at the other end of the pitch where the Gunners struggled last season. You’d have to go down to 10th-place Everton for a first team to have scored fewer than Arsenal’s 55 goals.
With that in mind, the question of justifying a £50 million outlay on a shiny new defender when other areas obviously need more quality poses itself. So what exactly is the reason why Mikel Arteta wants Ben White in his ranks so much?
To put it simply, the 23-year-old is a high-quality ball-playing centre-back, and in the modern game, such players are a necessity for any team. Arsenal mostly looked to David Luiz to try and break the opposition lines with forward passes in the last two seasons, but the experienced Brazilian is no longer at the Emirates, and his boots need filling in that aspect. Some looked to William Saliba as the player to try and step into the breach, but he obviously still isn’t showing sufficient maturity to be given a chance in the Premier League; hence another loan move.
At the age of 23, White is as proven as he can be in this specific area. His skill on the ball is very notable, highlighted by the fact that both Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds United and Graham Potter at Brighton and Hove Albion used him in a midfield role occasionally. He can also play right-back or wing-back, depending on the system, and it was this versatility which earned him a place in Gareth Southgate’s England for the recent Euros following the injury of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold.
For Arsenal, however, White is set to play in his preferred position – as a right-sided centre-back, either in a line of three or a line of four, and he will be expected to do what he does well – to move the ball up the pitch quickly and get his team on the front foot. Will he be worth the money? It remains to be seen, but the signs are promising.