Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher agreed that opposition teams will likely target Ben White in the air after his less-than-convincing debut performance in Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat to Brentford.
White arrived at Arsenal with huge expectations on his shoulders after joining from Brighton for a £50million fee this summer, but it was a night to forget for the 23-year-old England international as the north London outfit got their campaign off to the worst possible start.
Sergi Canos and Christian Norgaard scored in either half to seal a convincing victory the Premier League new boys in front of a rapturous 17,000-strong home crowd, while Arteta’s men will have to quickly find their cutting edge before their next clash with fierce rivals Chelsea.
The Gunners’ marquee summer signing, renowned for his ball-playing prowess, showed glimpses of his undoubted ability when bringing it out from the back at the Brentford Community Stadium on Friday evening.
But former Manchester United right-back Gary Neville expects Ivan Toney’s dominant display against White – both aerially and in one-vs-one tussles on the ground – to be used as a blueprint by Arsenal’s upcoming opponents.
‘That will encourage teams that are playing against Arsenal to play two up top because I think if you played one up, [Pablo] Mari might go and take them and then Ben White could obviously sweep and play as a spare player,’ Neville said on Sky Sports shortly after the final whistle.
‘I said before the game that nobody is going to remember at the end of the season how many good passes Ben White has made.
‘And you know when we say he’s good on the ball, that was something we used to say 15 years ago when a centre-back was good on the ball.
‘I actually think most centre-backs now, in top six clubs, are competent on the ball. They get it out their feet, play good passes, they can play diagonal switches. Harry Maguire is good on the ball, John Stones is good on the ball, Virgil van Dijk is good on the ball. They’re all good on the ball. Thiago Silva at Chelsea is good on the ball.
‘So we’ve got to stop saying he’s good on the ball because every centre-back in the top-six is. The difference will be whether he defend his goal. Can he make a difference to this Arsenal team?
‘And it’s too early. We’re talking about tonight but lets be clear, those Ivan Toney clips, those five or six clips where he’s got nudged around, that’s going to be the pre-match analysis of everyone who is going to play Arsenal. If you’re playing Arsenal next week, you’ll be thinking, “We’ll stick it on him, we’ll put it up against him, we’ll put our big man on him on set-pieces”, and he will be a target.
‘He’s got a £50m price tag and he’ll have to come through those early months of pressure and expectation and people like us talking about him. That’s what happens. This is not an attack on Ben White, it’s just a reality club that he’s at a club where he’s going to be judged differently than he was last season at Brighton.’
Carragher revealed that he had doubts about White when he was linked to Liverpool and urged the young centre-half to get ‘cleverer’ with his body movements to prevent opposition players having as much joy as Brentford’s attacking players did in their win.
‘I spoke to Ben White before the game and I mentioned about how many opportunities he’ll get to step in with the ball,’ the former Liverpool defender said.
‘Ben White isn’t going to get as many opportunities to step in with the ball, to actually show the quality that we all associate with him.
‘You want to see him do well, it’s a big price tag, but I must say that as soon as Arsenal bought him – and he was linked with Liverpool for 12-18 months – my fear was I wouldn’t want him to come to Liverpool because he’s not tall enough, not good enough in the air.
‘When he played in a back three at Brighton, the two next to him were giants. So you can step in with the ball, it’s not so much of a problem at set-pieces or long throws. But your two centre-backs in a back four have got to be good in the air.
‘That’s coming from me, I’m possibly the same size as Ben White. I couldn’t dominate anyone in the air – that was Sami Hyypia’s job – and I’d hopefully win 60-70 per cent of headers.
‘I said it in commentary, it’s about being clever, using your body as the ball comes in, easing someone out the way, using your experience.
‘He is a young player but he’s not going to get any taller so he’s going to have this problem.
‘People are going to watch tonight and think: just play long balls on Ben White’s head and you’re going to get joy. So he’s got to get someone in front of him or he’s got to get a lot stronger, cleverer in his body movements.’
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