Ben White Arsenal

Bobsingh77 | Wikipedia

Ben White joined Arsenal for a fee of £50m back in 2021 and that fee seemed high at the time, especially as he struggled a little to settle in. However, over time he has become a key member of the squad and a regular in the starting XI. Deployed by Leeds and Brighton mainly in either the centre of defence or in a holding midfield role, the Poole-born 26-year-old has been reinvented by Mikel Arteta as a right back and has really flourished over the last 18 months.

He featured 27 of the first 28 Premier League games for the Gunners in the 2023/24 season, playing 85% of all available minutes. He has delivered two goals and four assists and is a highly respected, and trusted, member of Arteta’s group. His performances have been consistently very strong and his versatility makes him a dream player for the squad at an international tournament. Why, then, has he not featured for England since 2022?

Ben White’s England Career

Ben White practicing
James Boyes | Wikipedia

The defender has got four England caps to his name and may yet add more, or he may not. He was named in the provisional squad for the 2020 Euros (played in 2021), marking his first Three Lions recognition at any age level. He was cut from the final group but made his debut in a pre-tournament warm-up game against Romania on the 6th of June 2021, playing the whole match as England won 1-0.

A day later he was recalled to the full squad as an injury replacement for Trent Alexander-Arnold but did not get any game time as Gareth Southgate’s men made it through to the final. He played three more times for his country and then in November the following year he was named in Southgate’s 26-player squad for the Qatar World Cup in the winter of 2022. However, on the 30th of November, the superb defender left the England base citing personal reasons and it was believed at the time he would not return. Not only did he not return to Qatar, he hasn’t returned to the national set-up at all since then.

More recently, following Southgate’s announcement of the squad for the high-profile friendly games against Brazil and Belgium, the England boss revealed that the Gunner had made himself unavailable for selection. Arsenal sporting director Edu had apparently contacted John McDermott, England’s technical director, to notify him of the news.

Southgate explained that White would have been included in the squad, was very welcome and that the door remained open. The England manager noted that it was a “great shame”, adding that “he’s a player I really like”. So, what is going on?

Why Is White Unavailable for Selection?

The simplest and most honest answer to this is that nobody knows, apart from the player and those close to him. The “personal reasons” for his withdrawal from the World Cup have never been disclosed and, in fact, White himself has never commented on the matter at all. As such, by and large, all we can really go on is rumour and supposition.

Arsenal announced that White had signed a new deal with the club on the very same day that news broke about his unavailability for England and that was not a coincidence. The club possibly wanted to both support their player and also draw attention away from his decision and the lucrative contract extension, through to 2028 with the option for a further year has certainly done that. However, many are still very interested in and confused by the defender’s stance.

Obviously, from a purely selfish Arsenal perspective, it may be a good thing. On the plus side, it means he can focus solely on ending the club’s wait for the Premier League or Champions League or, dare we be greedy, both! It means he is less likely to get injured and will be fresher on club duty, although on the downside testing oneself against the very best on the international stage can improve a player. Nonetheless, Gunners fans and others are still trying to get to the bottom of his decision.

Rumours & Facts

Whilst we may not be certain of much there are some things that are factual.

Southgate Welcomes White

First, Southgate has made it very clear he would like White involved and we do not think he is the sort of person who would say that if he didn’t mean it. The honorary Yorkshireman (yes, that is an official title, and he lives in the county!) stated that, “I want to leave the door open for him, because he’s a good player and he can make a difference for England”.

He added that, “The only other thing I would say is there is no issue between us, at all” and, perhaps more tellingly that, “There’s no issue with Steve Holland, because that has been mentioned in articles and I don’t like that”. Holland is Southgate’s friend and assistant and many believe he is key to all of this. We will return to him shortly, because that is very much where the rumours come in but before that let us consider one more fact.

White Focusing Solely on Arsenal?

White is on the record as saying that he doesn’t really have an interest in football. He never watched the sport as a child and his family are, for the most part, also uninterested. It could simply be that, given he views football as a job, rather than a love, he wants to focus on his employer. Fine by us. Although it does rather clash with the now-viral video of him talking excitedly about his first call-up.

Steve Holland Rumour

So, to Steve Holland. The rumour is that before the World Cup there was some sort of bust-up between the assistant and White. Some have been more specific and said that Holland queried what White knew about a potential opponent and was disappointed with the player’s answer. The idea behind this theory is that because Arsenal’s right back is not a football fan, he knew little about the opposition attacker.

Holland took unkindly to this, and, according to some sources, White’s general attitude and the pair fell out, with the coach publicly dressing him down. The Dorset native did not appreciate this and so, coupled with him generally not settling in the squad, and in the tournament atmosphere, decided to withdraw.

However, this remains very much a rumour with White entirely silent on the matter and Holland keeping quiet too. Obviously Southgate has denied there is any issue but that may not be the whole truth. The manager may mean there is no ongoing issue or grudge from him or his assistant. That is quite a different thing to the player not feeling there is unfinished business.

Ultimately until White speaks out, or perhaps Holland does, we won’t know for sure. Although if Southgate was to leave his post, taking Holland with him (for instance after the Euros), and the Gunner was suddenly to make himself available for selection again, we might certainly have another piece of the jigsaw!