There is are valid questions to be asked over Arsenal’s signing of Ben White.
The first is why are we investing so heavily in a central defender when we had one of the best defences in the league last year.
We could have gone into this season with Rob Holding and Gabriel starting, backed up by Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari and William Saliba.
There is also the question over the fee for White – £50million.
When you compare this to what Manchester United are Paying for Raphael Varane, it does feel excessive.
Varane is at the peak of his powers and is one of the best centre backs in the world.
The flip side is Varane has one year left on his contract – had he had 3 years you would probably be looking at a similar price tag to Harry Maguire.
When you also consider that the likes of Lewis Dunk and James Tarkowski have been linked with moves in the region of £35-40m, then perhaps £50m for a 23-year-old English centre back is not a bad deal.
So what does Ben White bring to Arsenal?
A defence for the future
Ben White – 23
Gabriel – 23
Kieran Tierney – 24
If we replace Hector Bellerin with someone in the same age bracket, we potentially have a back 4 for the rest of this decade.
White is not a short term option like David Luiz. He is part of the new long term transfer strategy at Arsenal.
Replacing David Luiz
Last season David Luiz played 11 passes into the opponents final 3rd per 90 minutes. The next nearest Arsenal defender was Rob Holding with 8. Gabriel just 6 passes into the opponent 90 and Mari 4.
Ben White averaged 10 passes into the opponents final 3rd per 90.
With Luiz going, we lost the ability to go from front ok back quickly. That has been replaced with White.
Last season over 40% of Ben White’s passes went forward.
This is more than Luiz (36%), Gabriel (35%), Holding (34%) and Mari (31%).
Whilst style of play does impact these statistics – Arsenal tend to play about either it at the back with sideways passes a lot – this shows that Arsenal have secured a defender whose thought is to get the ball forward rather than play an easier pass sideways to his fellow centre back.
For too long, Arsenal’s seasons have been curtailed due to having too many injury prone players.
Samir Nasri, Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Robin van Persie, Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott are amongst a long list have missed a lot of time in an Arsenal shirt due to injury.
For those who have an interest in football out of Arsenal, many of these suffering injuries would not be a surprise as they were also often injured at the clubs we signed them from.
Last season Ben White played 36 Premier League games for Brighton – 3,194 minutes in total.
The year before he played all 46 games for Leeds United as they got promoted.
To have missed just 2 League games in 2 years is incredible.
Arsenal are getting a player that can be relied upon physically.
Many people look at how many tackles a player makes to see their defensive contribution. This is wrong.
A player only makes a tackle as a last ditch attempt to win the ball.
Fabio Canavarro rarely made a tackle.
Where Canavarro was a world leader was in interceptions.
There is no need to make a tackle if you read the play and get to the ball first.
Alex Ferguson sold Jaap Stam After the amount of tackles he made per game dropped significantly. What they failed to realise in the early years of data is that his interceptions had dramatically increased.
Last season Gabriel averaged 1.17 interceptions a game. Holding was as low as 0.84.
Ben White averaged a huge 1.75 interceptions a game.
Interestingly whilst Holding averaged the lowest interceptions of the 5 centre backs discussed here, he averaged the highest tackles per game – highlighting that his game reading is not as good as the others.
So in Ben White, Arsenal are getting a defender that sets forward and wins the ball before it gets to the attacker and whose first thought is it to get the ball forward.
Add in his fitness ability to pass the ball into the final 3rd, you fee he ticks a lot of boxes that Mikel Arteta wants in a defender.
John Stones grew as a defender last season with his best year in a Man City and England shirt.
White is a younger version of John Stones.
Now we just need to add the right back of a similar profile and we have our defence sorted for the forceable.