Mikel Arteta knows that this summer is going to be crucial for his and Arsenal’s long term future. He is edging closer to his first summer signing. The Athletic report that they are close to an agreement with Brighton and Hove Albion for Ben White. The centre-back gate-crashed the England Euro 2020 squad following a good first season in the Premier League. At the age of 23, he is very much a player that will develop further and the Gunners trust he can thrive at the heart of their defence.
The deal could be worth up to £50 million according to the above report. It is a substantial fee considering Arsenal didn’t qualify for Europe, but it underlines the belief in Arteta. Last season, there was an inconsistency in selection at the back. Pablo Mari, David Luiz, Gabriel and Rob Holding all featured at centre back, but no combination emerged as a reliable partnership. David Luiz has now left the club as a free agent, which increased the need for another centre back option.
Supporters would have hoped that William Saliba would return to play a part, but it looks like he could be loaned out again, with Arteta seemingly having doubts about the Frenchman.
There is a young English core emerging at Arsenal, with Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah in the first team squad. White would add to that and it is exciting to see a homegrown presence at the Emirates Stadium. Under Arsene Wenger, there was a period when there was a lack of English players in the Gunners’ first team. Supporters will be excited that there are English players in the squad.
Last season, White played 36 matches for Brighton, accruing 3195 minutes in the top flight. It has been a quick rise for the England international over the last two seasons. Marcelo Bielsa took him on loan to Leeds and his game was transformed under the Argentine coach. He was one of the best players in the Championship in 2019/20 and he has continued his development at the Amex Stadium.
Arsenal supporters may question signing a defender from a bottom half club, but Brighton had one of the best defensive records in the Premier League. According to Understat, they had an expected goals against (xGA) of 39.91, which was the third best in the division. Arsenal had an xGA of 43.23.
In addition to being part of one of the Premier League’s best defences, White is versatile and capable of filling several roles on the pitch. He can play at centre back in a back three or four, defensive midfield and full back. Arsenal will view him as a right sided centre-back to partner Gabriel, but it is an added bonus that he can fulfil different roles if needed.
White is very much a modern centre-half. He enjoys having the ball, with his passing and decision making developing a lot during his Leeds’ loan spell. Last season, he averaged 3.27 progressive passes and 3.05 progressive carries per ninety minutes, which ranks better than the average for his position. His average of 0.73 shot creating actions per ninety minutes ranks in the 77th percentile for centre-backs, showing his ability to launch attacks from deep.
As would be expected from a player that thrived under Bielsa, he is a good presser and has a lot of energy for a centre-back. White averages 11.54 pressures per ninety minutes, which places him in the 81st percentile in comparison to his peers.
Arsenal’s summer will be judged when the transfer window closes. However, White looks to be a good fit for Arteta’s system. He wants his team to be dominant in possession and be able to build from the back. The 23-year-old suits that approach and following his international breakthrough, he will be ready to step up to a bigger club.