Thursday, November 30, 2023

Monday round-up: Ben White is good

Morning all. A quick Monday round-up for you.

Further to the Gabriel mistake and his reaction to it, Ben White said:

It’s outstanding. Gabi had a little hiccup and the reaction that he gave was outstanding and helped us get the win, really. I think the attitude and the desire we all have every day in training is showing on the pitch now.

Which isn’t really to discuss either the mistake or the goal again, as I did that in yesterday’s blog, but more to take a moment to appreciate Ben White. He had a somewhat difficult start to his Arsenal career, the £50m price-tag held over him on that first night of last season against Brentford when Sky’s pundits made it seem like he couldn’t win a header before they went dancing like giddy pricks with the home fans.

He then got Covid and missed a couple of games, but since then he has established himself in a serious way. It’s hard to put into exact words, but I feel very assured with him in the team, whether it’s at centre-half or at right back. That sense of reliability is a nice one to have about a defender, particularly after some of the lads in the not too distant past who elicited feelings of dread, terror, and/or existential dismay. The idea that he’s weak in the air doesn’t really play out either.

I looked at stats from last season, and he wins 57% of his aerial duels. Certainly there’s room for improvement, with the likes of Virgil van Dijk and John Stones in the 70%s for that particular stat, but in relation to his teammates, he measures up well. Gabriel is at 52%, and Takehiro Tomiyasu – someone perceived as very strong in the air – is at 50%.

He also wins 67% of his defensive duels, with Gabriel at 69% and Tomiyasu at 60%. As we know from watching All Or Nothing, Mikel Arteta does not like it when ‘he’ loses a duel. It makes him upset in a high pitched voice. This season, with the sample size admittedly quite a bit smaller, White has won nearly 70% of his aerial and defensive duels in the four games thus far. A long way to go but in a season when you’ve had to deal with Mitrovic, and relentless long balls fizzed towards Wilfried Zaha, it’s decent.

I like his reading of the game too. He’s front-footed, last season sharing the most interceptions of any Arsenal player with Kieran Tierney (203), and there’s just that bit of edge to his game which I think every good central defender needs. Sure, he looks like he could go on Stars in your Eyes and do a great George Michael, but he loves a bit of the niggly stuff too. I know it might make some people uneasy given our record with referees, but in some ways I think a player like him changes that a bit. He does it with a kind of good humour that I find quite endearing, and the innocent England international choirboy is much harder to book than the foreign equivalent.

Anyway, I just wanted to say I really like Ben White. So I did.

Elsewhere, this week is an interesting one because all the focus will be on Aston Villa on Wednesday night, but there’s also the transfer window to consider. There is no midweek press conference, so there won’t be any questions to the manager about recruitment, but they may have happened after the Fulham game where a section of that press conference is embargoed as the pre-Villa stuff.

I think we know what Mikel Arteta wants though. He’s been pretty clear about his desire to add more to his forward line, and when you’re sitting top of the table with a positive goal difference the same as Man City and Liverpool (which is slightly skewed by what they did against Bournemouth), that’s quite exciting.

I saw Pedro Neto played for Wolves yesterday, so there’s no drama about him being in or out of the squad. Youri Tielemans also featured for bottom of the table Leicester whose transfers in column this summer remains empty apart from a veteran number 2 goalkeeper. Obviously there are other players, other candidates, perhaps ones we’re not aware of, but it does look as if this could be a relatively busy last few days and hopefully we can add to the squad before Thursday night’s deadline.

We also have to keep an eye on what happens with Hector Bellerin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and possibly Reiss Nelson now that he’s fit again. All three need to get their careers back onto their respective tracks, and even with Europa League group stage football, their chances of playing this season are very slim indeed. Fingers crossed they can get the moves they want.

Obviously we’ll cover all the news as and when it happens over on Arseblog News (free from the most spurious ITK nonsense which is bound to crop up as people refresh and refresh and F5 and F5 in their desire to see stuff happen).

Right, that’s it for now. James and I will be recording the Arsecast Extra a little later this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

We’ll have the pod for you around midday. For now, take it easy.

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