Is Ben White Another Nicolas Pepe?
Maybe Arsenal are just not meant to be huge-spenders. Out of all the players we have spent large amounts of money acquiring, only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil have been relative successes. The duds outnumber the stars and we may have repeated this dastardly trick with Benjamin White.
Let it be clear: I was an advocate for Ben White’s signing. We needed his ballplaying qualities. Especially with Bernd Leno still at the club. I have been an advocate for his signing since his stint with Leeds in the Championship. In fact, I am still happy about his signing. But let it also be clear: I am not in charge of properly spending the millions of money that Arsenal have to spend and I don’t have to do as much due diligence.
The first thing is that every backline needs leadership and organization. Between Gabriel, Chambers, Leno and White, there are no leaders. This is an intangible and immeasurable quality. You can’t quite quantify it with data. It won’t show up in the StatsBomb radars. It is something you pick out with your eyes. We lack leadership at the back and Tierney who has it mostly spends his time going forward. Maybe when you want to buy a 50M premium defender, you want to make sure that they can command the backline?
The next thing about Ben White that gives me the jitters is that he is not an assertive defender, especially when the ball is in the air. Part of the reason for our defensive record and setpiece defending last season was that the duo of David Luiz and Gabriel were aerial monsters. They just win everything you throw at them. Pablo Mari was supposed to help and in fact quite did his part but it was not enough. Perhaps, the return of Gabriel will help our defence more? It is just curious that we spent that much money on a defender who really doesn’t head a ball.
The last thing that concerns me about White is the athletic dominance or lack of it. Gabriel was a welcome player in this regard. He could give Wilfred Zaha as much as he wants all day long. He was really a defensive monster. It seems like we have decided to go for elegance over dominance.
So what were the recruitment department thinking? Here’s what they were thinking: Ben White is 23 years old, which is quite young for a defender. He can be reasonably expected to improve. And I know where they expect him to improve: athleticism and aerial dominance. He has not filled out his frame yet. It will happen over the next 2-3 years. Ben White will be stronger for sure. And in the air, he will learn how to properly jump for a ball. He will learn how to use his size and win the ball. And in the meantime, Gabriel Maghalaes will hold his hand.
Ben White is a notorious fast-learner. That is how he got here at this age. Serious improvement is likely to happen with him. We bought him for the future. Is that smart enough? I don’t know. United bought the almost-finished product in Maguire at 25. In two seasons, they now have a player in his prime. For us, we will need to wait 3 or 4 seasons. In the mean time, you can enjoy his ballplaying. That is why we bought him.