As the most expensive defender in the club’s history, Ben White can forget about having too much wiggle room for mistakes.
Arsenal is a club that has prided itself on having some of the defensive greats: think Tony Adams, think Sol Campbell, think Martin Keown and think Pat Rice. That famous quartet, among others, set standards in north London, showed a level of toughness and determination that led to multiple titles.
And so while White, who joined in the summer for £50million, had looked like he was settling in in an Arsenal shirt following a shaky start he was back under the microscope – and back in the firing line – following his error for Crystal Palace’s second goal in a 2-2 draw last Monday.
His performance on Friday was more solid, in a 3-1 win against Aston Villa, but the 24-year-old picked up a niggle in the midweek Carabao Cup win against former club Leeds – yet he is still expected to be fit for the clash at Leicester today despite not training all week.
Ben White was placed under the microscope following the 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace
Arsenal legend Ian Wright (left) and Sky Sports’ Gary Neville (right) were both critical of White’s role in Palace’s second goal and this level of scrutiny will be normal given his £50m fee
It is something he will need to get used to. If he is to wear the iconic No 4 shirt and succeed, adversity will have to be brushed off with ease.
Make a mistake at Brighton and it is unlikely to be analysed within an inch of its life. But make a mistake at Arsenal and expect to hear plenty of dissenting voices.
Arsenal legend Ian Wright and Sky Sports’ Gary Neville were particularly bemused at the nature of White’s role in Palace’s second goal.
Wright told Premier League productions: ‘I think it’s a little bit of a worry for Arsenal because when you look at both goals, we’re not getting defenders to go and engage.
‘He’s [White] got to get closer to him [Odsonne Edouard] and he doesn’t do it. They’ve done brilliantly to score the goal.
‘I think he’s got to get close to him… at no stage does Ben White close that gap. People can say what they want, maybe the goalkeeper or whatever… at no stage does that gap get smaller so why wouldn’t you shoot?’
Neville, who spent his career as a defender for Manchester United, was left equally perplexed.
‘Ben White drops off and drops off and drops off,’ he said, ‘you can’t drop off like that.’
It is worth remembering that White’s ascendance has been swift.
Three years ago he was playing in League Two with Newport County at Rodney Parade where he became one of the pillars of the team.
White is the most expensive defender in Arsenal’s history and with that comes expectations
The South Wales side would often speak of his ‘classy’ displays, his composure on the ball and former Newport boss Michael Flynn once described White as ‘the best loan signing’ they ever made.
Further loans at Peterborough United, and then at Leeds United, continued his development before he was fast-tracked into Brighton’s first team amid fears he was being eyed up by rivals.
Leeds had three bids rejected for him. His stock was sky-high and all of England’s big clubs were hovering around a player many saw as a shoo-in future England international.
Crowned Brighton’s 2020-21 Player Of The Season, Arsenal were smitten and were willing to pay whatever it took. In the end it took £50m – and so they paid it.
But costing £50m and wearing the iconic No 4 shirt means something and few will come to White’s defense if he shows the same level of indecision and passiveness as he did against Palace going forward.
Mikel Arteta has complete belief in the Englishman but pressure is attached to the price tag
White struggled on debut but he has since shown he is growing as a starter for Arsenal
It also jarred with some supporters when White, who explained he prefers Benjamin and not Ben, said that he doesn’t sit down to watch football at home and has limited knowledge of the previous generations of players.
‘I know [Vieira] was a very good player,’ White told Sky Sports. ‘But I wouldn’t know the details. I’m quite busy, I’m always doing something.
‘I watch myself for analytical reasons. I watch England, maybe. I just wouldn’t just sit down and watch a game.’
Some praised the honesty of White to not trot out the cliched praises and memories of former players.
Palace boss Patrick Vieira was not impressed with White’s revelation he doesn’t watch football
But many were not impressed and one of those included Vieira; the story was not going to disappear quickly or quietly.
‘It matters,’ Vieira said after White’s comments were put to him before Monday’s 2-2 draw.
‘Watching games shows the passion and love you have. Thierry (Henry) would watch any kind of game in any league in any country. He knew everything about the game.’
It was a dig, another one, from another Arsenal legend.
White (right) has shown greater comfort when playing along with Takehiro Tomiyasu (left)
In fairness to White since looking lost in the opening day loss to newly-promoted Brentford, White has formed part of a back-line that has gone five league games unbeaten.
Alongside Takehiro Tomiyasu, who has looked a gem of a find at right back, White appears more comfortable and Mikel Arteta would be wise to have them both on the pitch at the same time to afford the Englishman some extra protection.
The biggest feather White can stick in his cap is to respond positively to the various criticisms being levelled at him.
He is immensely talented, has impressed wherever he has gone but the light has never been brighter. The sooner he can adjust to it the better. A trip to the King Power today – assuming he is fit – will be another stern test.