Mikel Arteta has backed Ben White to step in for England if Kyle Walker is ruled out of the World Cup through injury and believes he could slot comfortably into Gareth Southgate’s back three.
Walker’s groin injury leaves him with an uphill battle to be fit for Qatar 2022, where England begin against Iran on 21 November, and White would hold genuine hope of a recall if the Manchester City player does not make it.
White shone in the middle for Arsenal last season but has been a revelation at right-back in their strong start this time around. He has proved highly adaptable and Arteta believes he can excel in the right-sided centre-back role Walker has occupied.
Asked whether White could push for inclusion and if that position would suit him, he said: “Both. Ben would be very comfortable playing on the right side of a back three as well as in the middle, or as a full-back. If you ask me if he is ready to make that step then the answer is yes, because he is a very confident boy. He gives you absolutely everything, he is always available and he has the courage to play under real pressure.”
White won the most recent of his four caps in March, starting at right-back when England beat Ivory Coast 3-0 with a largely experimental side. He has fallen behind Fikayo Tomori and Marc Guéhi in the pecking order at centre-back since then and, where Walker’s spot in particular is concerned, would be deemed unlikely to start ahead of John Stones this winter even if called up. But Arteta believes his form as an attacking full-back speaks of an invaluable versatility.
“We all believed he had the qualities to do that and the most important step, probably, was for him to believe he could do it and to feel comfortable in that position – and that the position could maximise his potential and give him another dimension as a player,” he said. “The fact that now he can play in various positions will make him a more complete player and I think he’s very happy with that.”
White is expected to start for Arsenal against Liverpool. His repurposing to the flank has partly been brought about by the exceptional form in central defence of Gabriel Magalhães and William Saliba.
The latter, in particular, has been compared in favourable terms to the visitors’ Virgil van Dijk but Arteta rejected any resemblances to the Dutchman or his potential partner Joël Matip. “The moment they win everything the other two have is the right moment [to compare],” he said.