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Transfer Rumor: Ben White bid incoming?

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A rumor I initially rubbished is picking up steam.

England v Austria - International Friendly Photo by Alex Pantling - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Arsenal are moving closer to an official bid for Brighton & Hove Albion centerback Ben White, according to David Ornstein. The Seagulls are reportedly seeking £40-50M for the newly-minted England international, an amount that Ornstein reports the Gunners would be able to afford.

I’m struggling to make sense of the White-to-Arsenal rumor. Rather, I can easily make it make sense, but I don’t love the reasoning behind it.

The reporting has been consistent that Mikel Arteta wants a new right side centerback in the transfer window. His system requires strong distribution from the CBs, and we saw how Arsenal struggled with David Luiz’s passing and ability to switch the play / stretch the defense with a long ball out of the lineup. Ben White is an excellent passer and brings more defensively than David Luiz. He’d be a significant upgrade at the position.

But Arsenal just spent nearly £30M on William Saliba, a RCB, two summers ago. Mikel Arteta has given the Frenchman nary a look at Arsenal. By all accounts, Saliba has looked great on loan in Ligue Un. Still the best we can get from Arteta is that Saliba will have a chance to compete for a spot this summer — not exactly a ringing endorsement. It feels like Mikel Arteta really doesn’t rate a guy that much of the football world does and Arsenal spent a pretty penny to acquire. I doubt Arsenal would break even if they sold Saliba this summer because the Ligue Un clubs (where he’d almost certainly go) have no money.

Without straying too far into the sunk-cost fallacy, spending an additional £40-50M on a young player in a position where you’ve just spent nearly £30M on a prospect isn’t great business. It smacks very much of Arsenal buying Alexandre Lacazette then turning around and buying Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as well.

Speaking of the Arsenal attackers, the club scored the 9th most goals in the Premier League and conceded the 3rd fewest. Which of those two areas seems the more important to strengthen? Arsenal have a long list of needs this summer, chief among them (from where I sit), adding attacking creativity. We’ve been told every transfer window for the past, well, ever that the club has limited funds. So what gives? I don’t think Arsenal are going to bring in two £40-50M players. So if it’s either or, I don’t like buying White instead of an attacker.

Of course if the club buy Ben White at that price AND add useful attacking creativity that can contribute immediately, I retract my displeasure. But do we really believe that Stan Kroenke’s Arsenal are going to do that?

There are a few other explanations that jump to mind. White has played some defensive midfield for Brighton and played there in one of his two recent England appearances in the Euro 2020 warmup matches. Perhaps Arsenal will use him as a #6 to free up Thomas Partey.

It’s also possible that since the most recent update — Arsenal’s ability to pay — is coming from David Ornstein, that the club are trying to send a message through the media. Ornstein is well connected with the Arsenal hierarchy to the point where he can sometimes be a mouthpiece for the misdirection and cryptic messaging the club want to broadcast.

But what message? That Arsenal have money to spend this summer? Wouldn’t you not want other clubs to know that so you can drive a harder bargain? I don’t think they’re trying to reassure the supporters that they’re going to do something, because honestly I don’t think they’re bothered about that. And if they want to reassure their own roster, that’s something the can do privately.

Maybe “we’re interested in Ben White” is a smokescreen to hide interest elsewhere and avoid a bidding war while simultaneously creating one for a rival. Maybe it’s to send a message to clubs generally that Arsenal have plenty of options and the money to back it up so that if you try to play hardball, they’ll walk. There’s any number of different speculative directions to take this, and I’m not ready to give Edu or Mikel Arteta the benefit of the doubt when it comes to squad building.

Of course, there’s also Occam’s Razor — Arsenal would like to buy Ben White.