When Ben White walked through the doors at London Colney following his eye-watering £50million switch from Brighton and Hove Albion this summer, his arrival forged an illusion that he was the answer to Arsenal’s defensive woes.
However, the 23-year-old centre-back was handed a harrowing taste of what it takes to warden Mikel Arteta’s defence during pre-season with defeats to Chelsea and Tottenham; foreshadowing the 2-0 loss to Brentford described as ‘men against boys’ and ‘same old Arsenal’.
Although White was not entirely culpable for his side’s discouraging defensive showing on the opening day of the Premier League, arriving as Arsenal’s third most expensive signing subconsciously demands instant results whereby failure to do so leaves said culprit vulnerable to scapegoating.
Speaking to Sky Sports, Gary Neville began to unearth White as a paper-over-the cracks signing, opposed to a signing that can truly radiate defensive solidarity – a profile much like Arsenal fans have seen over the years with the likes of Tony Adams and more recently, albeit not to the same pedigree, Laurent Koscielny.
Neville expressed his strong stance on White’s debut acknowledging the defender’s incredible ability to build possession from deep, but insisting that leading centre-halves must be able to defend and organise above being comfortable on the ball.
He said: “No one at the end of the season is going to remember how many good passes Ben White has made. When we say he is good on the ball, that is something we used to say 15 years ago.
“I actually think most centre-backs now, in top six clubs, are competent on the ball.
“They get it out of their feet, they play good passes, they can play good diagonal switches. They’re all good on the ball now.”
The former Manchester United stalwart continued as he questioned whether White will be able to make a difference to Arteta’s team.
“The difference will now be can he defend this goal, can he make a difference to this Arsenal side,” Neville said.
White is by no means the root of Arsenal’s troubles, but subject to a system that could expose his weakness more so than if he was under different tenure.
He will be looking to rectify his side’s growingly infamous leaky defence and a quick-fix switch to a back-three could prove fruitful.
Arsenal’s new number four has a wealth of experience operating within a back three at Leeds United and the Seagulls, while Arteta has also implemented a similar shape since his arrival at the Emirates.
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The shape will offer reinforced defensive protection, although not reflective of White’s ability but of others, and will enable the likes of Kieran Tierney to slide in at left centre-back.
This formation would accommodate for Bukayo Saka at left wing-back, after having excelled in that role before, and opening the door for the breadth of attacking talent at Arteta’s disposal.
However, with Arteta now under significant pressure and his job far from secure according to Tuttosport, and pressure mounting on Edu to seal the signing of Lautaro Martinez from Inter Milan, reports suggest that Antonio Conte has been lined up as a replacement.
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The former Chelsea boss, who became synonymous with a back three rebirthing the shape into modern English football, was pivotal in the rise of David Luiz.
The former Gunners defender excelled as a ball-playing defender anchoring the middle of back three for Conte; a role that White would operate in under the Serie 2020/21 winner should he fill Arteta’s shoes.
Arsenal face Chelsea in the coming days and by matching Thomas Tuchel’s back three they could lay the foundations to a new defensively resolute era in north London spearheaded by White at the heart of the action.