In Focus: £50m man White proving his worth ahead of Seagulls return
Ben White returns to Brighton today after playing a starring role in new club Arsenal’s recent resurgence.
The £50million acquisition of the England international was the marquee signing of the Gunners’ big-spending summer.
The 23-year-old had a tricky introduction after swapping the south coast for North London but is now starting to show why Mikel Arteta was so desperate to bring him in.
Ahead of his return to the Amex Stadium, we turn the spotlight on White and assess the start he has made at his new club.
Baptism of fire
A Premier League opener against newly-promoted Brentford presented a good opportunity for White to get off to a winning start — but it turned out to be disastrous.
In front of a roaring Brentford Community Stadium, Arteta’s young side buckled under the pressure of a lively Bees side as they fell to a 2-0 defeat.
Brentford’s second goal was a particular moment to forget for White as a long throw-in easily evaded him and his defensive partners, allowing Christian Norgaard to head into an empty net.
It led Sky Sports commentator Jamie Carragher to give the damning assessment: "How would you describe Arsenal’s defending here? It’s just Arsenal.
"Weak. Bullied. Men against boys. Again. New season, same old story."
White was then unable to immediately put things right after being ruled out of the following games against Chelsea and Manchester City through injury.
With their new man only able to watch on from the sidelines, the Gunners succumbed to dismal 2-0 and 5-0 defeats which left them rock bottom of the Premier League.
Recipe for success
White returned to the side for their fourth top-flight game against Norwich, which has proved to be the springboard for a lift in mood at the Emirates.
Their victory over the Canaries — albeit by a narrow 1-0 scoreline — was not only their first win of the campaign but also their first clean sheet.
It was the first game in which Arsenal’s new-look back five was tried, with White starting alongside fellow returning defender Gabriel, £16m signing Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney in front of Aaron Ramsdale in goal.
For the first time this season, Arteta was then able to go unchanged in defence and managed a 1-0 victory over Burnley.
That stayed in place for stunning 3-1 victory over Tottenham in the North London derby, which appears to have fully ignited their campaign.
White’s exceptional ball-playing ability seems to finally allow Arteta to pass out from the back in a way that he has always tried to do.
And Arteta has spoken of his delight at how the ex-Seagulls ace has slotted into his side.
He said: "As well, the willingness to learn, to improve, because he’s realised that he is still really young, still in the development process and there are things that he can improve.
"The understanding is getting better and the cohesion among the back is getting better, the more they play it will keep improving.
"We have different partnerships that will work, but certainly they played well at the weekend."
Seagulls flying without White
While Arsenal have taken time to get things in order, Brighton hit the ground running in the absence of White.
Four victories, one draw and just one defeat leaves the Seagulls flying high in sixth, one point off the top of the Premier League.
Despite battling with relegation for much of last season, White was part of a Brighton defence which boasted the joint seventh-best record after only conceding 46 goals.
But with White’s departure severely weakening Brighton’s backline, it has inspired a switch to a focus on attacking output.
The surprise return of veteran defender Shane Duffy has helped fill the hole in defence, while Graham Potter has decided to take a much more aggressive approach.
The south coast outfit have found a clinical edge after struggling to take their chances last season and look all set for an excellent season despite losing a key man.
From Brighton’s side, there are no bad feelings towards White ahead of his return.
Asked about his former defender in his pre-match press conference, Potter said: "Ben’s a resilient character, a fantastic footballer, a great guy, we all love him here, so apart from obviously the weekend we wish him well — and I’m sure he will do well."
His old club will present White with one of his biggest tests yet — but it will be the perfect chance to further show he is worth the hefty price tag.