Ben White is officially an Arsenal player. He’s now four years older and only has one year left to run on his contract but the deal is finally confirmed as the Brighton centre-back moves to north London on a club-record fee for a defender.
While it may have taken longer than most would have liked, there was little to nothing anyone could have done to speed up this process; White was away with England until July 11; Brighton held all the power in negotiations; and then the player was due a well-deserved rest.
All of which is water under the bridge now. A deal worth £50m that could climb to £55m depending on various add-ons has been concluded and the new No. 4 joins on a deal running until 2026.
It’s a serious outlay from the club. Nobody expected this much being spent, let alone on a defender. Now it has been, what can come of it takes centre stage.
Arsenal: 3 Ben White tactical roles under Mikel Arteta after Gunners secure Brighton centre-back on £50m transfer
Heading into this summer knowing David Luiz’s contract wouldn’t be renewed, it left Mikel Arteta with Pablo Mari, Gabriel, Rob Holding, William Saliba and Konstantinos Mavropanos as his centre-back options.
As much as fans yearned for Saliba to get his chance, a loan to Marseille materialised and Mavropanos joined with him in leaving on a deal that will be made permanent.
Links to White surfaced before the Frenchman’s move to provide all the indications needed to get an idea of Arteta’s plan, with centre-back high up on the priority list this summer. It is hoped he’ll be joined by more additions but until then he is set to make the biggest impact on the team ahead of the coming Premier League campaign.
What can fans expect of him? Naturally, there will be high hopes for someone arriving as the third most expensive player in the club’s history. All that aside, there will be numerous tactical roles for White to fulfill in red and…white, with three listed below.
1. Splitting Centre-Backs With Right-Sided Cover
Splitting centre-backs is nothing new. Most teams do it. Arsenal have been doing it for a while and they would be doing it whether or not White was brought in.
The question is: can it be done better?
Pushing the full-backs out wide and having a central midfielder drop to form a triangle with the centre-backs is designed to get add lanes of attacking moving forward. As an example in Arsenal’s case, Kieran Tierney can move up into a left-winger role with Emile Smith Rowe dropping into the left half-space, while on the opposite flank Hector Bellerin can do likewise with Bukayo Saka drifting in.
In this setup the centre-backs occupy positions vacated by the full-backs and provide the goalkeeper with multiple out-balls. When in possession, the central defenders then have more passing points into phase two. A common tool used across all divisions.
Where Arsenal have struggled to improve this is the security that the right centre-back brings. Rob Holding is not terrible covering his right-back but his lack of athleticism prevents the full-back from being too advanced. When they do push up, a central midfielder often has to drop into an auxiliary right-back mould at accommodate for the risk involved and to aid Holding’s less than desirable passing.
Operating previously in a back three as well as at right-back, White is capable of covering these spaces more efficiently and reducing the need for conservatism among his teammates. Furthermore, with Calum Chambers, someone who can drift infield and add reinforcement for turnovers, it allows White to carry into those channels which he does so well.
The pass down the line or infield isn’t always on if sides adopt a mid-to-high press and with someone as comfortable carrying as White, it adds another dimension to how Arsenal build without relying on going back across to his centre-back teammate or the goalkeeper as often.
His presence unlocks great potential. Being a left-heavy attacking team, this offers balance and leans away from predictability.