Mikel Arteta's £50 million dilemma at Arsenal

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is facing a delicate challenge as he navigates the intense competition between two quality players, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Ben White, both vying for the right side of the Gunners' defence.

While the pursuit of depth in every position is beneficial for the team, it has presented Arteta with a selection dilemma that could potentially freeze out a £50 million signing, Ben White, if not handled adeptly.

Ben White during the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal and Lens at Emirates Stadium on November 29, 2023  Marc Atkins

A difficult start for Ben White

Ben White, signed from Brighton in a £50 million deal in 2021, has faced limited game time recently, with his last full 90 minutes played on November 8. He famously had to pull out of the England World Cup Squad for personal reasons. Arteta disclosed that White had been nursing a minor injury, battling through the pain to contribute to the team. This absence paved the way for Japanese international Tomiyasu to showcase his abilities, seizing the opportunity with a stellar attacking display against Lens, providing two assists in a resounding 6-0 victory in the Champions League match that secured Arsenal's place in the last 16.

Previously perceived as a weak point in Tomiyasu's game, his offensive contributions highlight Arteta's influence on the player's development at London Colney. Arteta has openly expressed his admiration for the Japanese international, citing him as a unique asset with exceptional defensive skills, as he is able to play across the back line. Reports suggest that Tomiyasu might soon be rewarded with a new long-term contract, underscoring his importance to Arteta's plans.

Takehiro Tomiyasu during the UEFA Champions League match between Arsenal and Lens at Emirates Stadium on November 29, 2023  Visionhaus

The rise of Tomiyasu

The dilemma for Arteta deepens with Tomiyasu's versatility allowing him to be deployed at left-back, a position he occupied earlier in the campaign. However, the return of Oleksandr Zinchenko forces Arteta to make a decisive choice between Tomiyasu and White for the right-back position, not to mention the return of Jurrien Timber from injury at some point in the new year. The Japanese player's outstanding performance against Lens, coupled with Arteta's glowing praise, intensifies the competition and adds pressure on White to reclaim his spot in the starting XI.

White's ability to play at centreback or in defensive midfield provides tactical flexibility, but the strength of Arsenal's squad raises the possibility of him spending more time on the bench during the festive period, especially with him picking up a possible knock during Arsenal's 2-1 home win over Wolves this weekend. Arteta's managerial skills will be put to the test as he balances the aspirations of both players, especially considering White's proven worth over more than 100 appearances for Arsenal, although his England career has so far been hit and miss.

Arteta acknowledges the challenge, stating:

We are really short at the back at the moment, and we had to use the squad and make some changes, give some rest and give some minutes to all the players.

The tactical decisions made in the coming matches will not only shape Arsenal's defensive lineup but also determine the harmony within Arteta's squad as he manages the delicate balance between talent and team dynamics as Arsenal once again aim to go neck and neck with Manchester City and Liverpool in the race for the Premier League title this year.

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© James Gill - Danehouse

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