Arsenal have completed the signing of Ben White from Brighton in a £50m deal that makes him their third-most expensive arrival of all time, and will now turn their attention to persuading two senior players to stay at the Emirates.
White had been one of Mikel Arteta’s top summer targets and his ability to pass out from defence, as well as step into midfield, was seen as a key component in speeding up Arsenal’s game in possession. Although the 23-year-old centre-back effectively replaces David Luiz, he is more than a decade younger and appears yet to reach his ceiling. He will take the No 4 shirt and has signed a five-year contract.
The club have not lost hope that Héctor Bellerín and Granit Xhaka, both of whom are keen to move, will join White in this season’s squad and are preparing to offer them new contracts. Bellerín’s representatives met Edu, the technical director, this week and were informed Arsenal would like him to extend his deal, which ends in 2023. Internazionale are interested in Bellerín and have proposed a one-year loan with an option to buy next summer; however, Arsenal will entertain only a permanent move or a loan with an obligation to purchase. Atlético Madrid are also monitoring the situation closely, with their right-back Kieran Trippier keen to return to England and Manchester United considering a move.
A similar situation applies to Xhaka, the subject of a bid from Roma. Arsenal have rejected the offer and will ask the midfielder to agree a contract extension. Xhaka’s deal also expires in 2023 and the club are keen to protect themselves, while ensuring two experienced players are retained for at least another year at a time when replacements would be costly and difficult to source.
White was an impressive performer for Brighton throughout last season, his first in the Premier League, having bided his time upon graduating from their academy. He spent loans with Newport and Peterborough but caught the eye more widely during an outstanding campaign with Leeds in 2019-20, when he played every match in their promotion from the Championship.
Leeds tried to tempt Brighton with offers of up to £25m on the back of that spell but, although he had yet to play a league game for the Seagulls, their efforts were unsuccessful. Brighton will feel vindicated now after recouping a fee twice as big, which becomes a club record sum received. White missed only two top-flight games in 2020-21 and became a mainstay for Graham Potter, who said in April that his defender “has got that athleticism where he can just play, play, play”. He started in midfield on a handful of occasions and could prove a useful option there for Arteta, who may find himself short on depth in that area.
“Ben is an intelligent defender who is very comfortable with the ball at his feet and his style fits perfectly with us,” Arteta said. “And of course, he is still young, so his age and profile fits with what we are building here. We are all looking forward to Ben being central to our future long-term plans.”
White won his first England caps in the pre-Euro 2020 friendlies against Austria and Romania. He was selected for Gareth Southgate’s final squad and, although he did not feature in any of England’s campaign, he is understood to have impressed his teammates in training.
The deal brings Arsenal’s summer expenditure close to £75m. They have also signed the Anderlecht midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga and the Benfica left-back Nuno Tavares, all the deals indicating a desire to freshen up their squad with younger talent.
Arteta intends to bring in further additions. They have made three bids for the Sheffield United goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, and a playmaker and a striker are also among those sought, but may have to be patient. There is a need to raise money but a sizeable number of fringe players are yet to be moved on. Sead Kolasinac and Lucas Torreira are still contracted and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson are among others dispensable if the right offers come in.