How Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White Are Bedrock of New Arsenal

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As the bottom potentially falls out of Chelsea, after Roman Abramovich’s proposed sale of the club was frozen by the British Government because of his “clear” links to Vladimir Putin, Arsenal fans can celebrate their club acquiring a new foundation. It is not a new owner – given what has happened with Abramovich, Arsenal fans may no longer look so unfavourably upon Stan Kroenke, especially as he stopped Alisher Usmanov, another Putin-affiliated oligarch, from acquiring the club – but a relatively new bedrock to the Arsenal team, in the form of goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale and centre-back Ben White.

Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White Are Bedrock of the New Arsenal

The Goalkeeper-Centreback Partnership Is Crucial

It is increasingly said that football is a game of partnerships, with the individual pairings within a team, such as that between a full-back and a winger/wide attacker, being regarded as the fundamental building blocks of a successful team. And yet the single most important partnership in any successful team is often overlooked, namely that of the goalkeeper and the main or dominant centre-back.

Arsenal fans should need no reminding of that, given that it has been so long since the Gunners last had a successful goalkeeper-centreback pairing. Arguably, the last time that they had such a close-knit unit as the basis of the team was in the early noughties, when Sol Campbell joined in 2001 and immediately established the kind of commanding relationship with David Seaman that he had long enjoyed at international level.

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However, there are numerous other examples that demonstrate the importance of having a dominant No.1 and No.5 (the shirt number traditionally allocated to a centre-half). Alex Ferguson’s greatest – i.e. Champions League-winning – sides at Manchester United, in 1999 and 2008, had two spectacular examples in Peter Schmeichel and Jaap Stam, and Edwin Van der Sar and Nemanja Vidic, respectively. And going even further back, Brian Clough regarded the signing of Peter Shilton, the perfect goalkeeper to compliment his striker-turned-centreback Kenny Burns, as the final piece of the jigsaw when it came to building a League and European Cup-winning side at Nottingham Forest.

Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White obviously have a long way to go before they can merit comparison with such legendary goalkeeper-centreback pairings. However, on the evidence of their first season together at Arsenal, they at least have a chance of doing so.

But Both Ramsdale and White Were Initially Regarded As Poor Signings

Of course, that was not how Ramsdale and White were seen, even by Arsenal fans, when they joined the club last summer. In particular, Ramsdale’s signing was almost regarded as a joke, because Arsenal already had what seemed to be a good goalkeeper in Bernd Leno. Consequently, for the Gunners to spend nearly £30 million on a No.2 goalkeeper from Sheffield United when there were so many other obvious areas of weakness in the side seemed further evidence of the club’s generally poor transfer policy of recent years.

Now, nearly nine months on, Mikel Arteta’s insistence on signing Aaron Ramsdale appears to have been almost entirely vindicated. In every part of the goalkeeper’s skill-set, from shot-stopping to distribution of the ball, he has proved himself far superior to Leno, who will surely be looking for a new club come the summer transfer window. Even more importantly, Ramsdale’s naturally outgoing, even infectious, personality, which has been commented on by almost everyone who has ever met or even interviewed him, has allowed him to assert his dominance over an Arsenal backline that for nearly two decades (so, since the Invincibles team of 2004) had appeared to be almost institutionally incompetent.

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White’s signing, for £50 million from Brighton, was almost as universally questioned, if not actively derided, especially after a fairly appalling debut at Brentford, when he looked as if he was ill at ease at being such an expensive signing. A direct comparison was made with Manchester United’s £35 million acquisition of Raphaël Varane, a Champions League and World Cup-winning central defender from Real Madrid. And yet as we approach the end of the season, there are few if any Arsenal fans who would want to swap White for Varane, who has not only struggled to adapt to the increased pace and power of the Premier League in comparison with La Liga but also proven himself, in England at least, to be somewhat injury-prone, again in stark comparison with White, who has barely missed a game for Arsenal since signing.

Perhaps the ultimate compliment that can be paid to Aaron Ramsdale and Ben White is that as Arsenal unexpectedly compete for Champions League qualification and Gunners fans produce wish-lists of players to add to the team and the squad in the summer, almost all of them are midfielders and forwards. For the first time in a very long time, Arsenal appear to have an extremely solid foundation at the back.

Will They Recreate Their Club Pairing At International Level?

Indeed, such has been the joint progress of both Ramsdale and White that there is a possibility that they will get the chance to recreate their successful club pairing at international level. The two current, in fact, long-term, incumbents of their positions in the England team – Jordan Pickford and Harry Maguire – have a lot of credit in the bank with Gareth Southgate for their impressive performances at both the World Cup in 2018 and the delayed Euro 2020 Finals last summer.

Nevertheless, for all that Pickford and Maguire have arguably always performed better for their country than for their clubs, current form is undoubtedly a factor that weighs heavily for international managers, especially when they only take charge of games that can be months apart from each other. When England last played regularly in the autumn, in the remaining World Cup qualifiers, the memory of Pickford and Maguire’s strong showing in the Euros last summer would have been a strong factor in Southgate persevering them with them. That argument is no longer so powerful now.

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Consequently, if they can continue to perform at their current high level for Arsenal, Aaron Ramsdale and White will surely be called up by Southgate to his next England squad – giving them the chance to cement their relationship at international level in time for the Qatar World Cup at the end of this year.

So, in the rest of 2022, the Arsenal goalkeeper and main centre-back may just have a unique opportunity to help each other to excel at both club and international level, taking Arsenal back into the Champions League after a six-season absence and perhaps even helping England, the runners-up at the Euros, to challenge for their first international trophy since 1966.

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