Ben White admits it was ‘not a nice feeling’ to be ‘singled out’ for criticism by Premier League greats Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, but says the comments spurred him on as he looks to become a mainstay for Arsenal and England.
Arsenal beat a host of domestic and European rivals to White’s signature when they signed him in a £50m deal from Brighton last summer.
Much was expected of the centre-back when he arrived at the Emirates but he endured a debut to forget in the season-opening 2-0 defeat to Premier League newcomers Brentford.
Following Arsenal’s defeat in west London, both Neville and Carragher suggested Premier League teams would see White as a potential weakness in the Arsenal team and could look to target the 24-year-old over the course of the season.
A positive Covid test in August didn’t help White settle at Arsenal but he soon began to impress as the Gunners recovered from three straight defeats to slowly but surely climb up the Premier League table.
White has been one of Arsenal’s most consistent and important players this season, forming an impressive partnership with Gabriel and helping Mikel Arteta’s side emerge as the favourites to finish fourth ahead of Manchester United, Tottenham and West Ham.
Reflecting on the early criticism he received from Neville and Carragher, White – who is currently with England’s squad for the upcoming friendlies against Switzerland and Ivory Coast – said: ‘I think it was the first time I have actually been singled out like that.
‘It is not a nice feeling, it is not very good. But it just gave me more incentive to go out there and do well.
‘Some of the stuff they said was true in that game – it wasn’t my best. But if I thought about it too much or kept listening to it back all the time, it would only affect me. So I just tried to do better.’
Such has been White’s form this season, he is one of the main contenders to start for England at the Qatar World Cup later in the year.
He was one of four Arsenal players to be selected in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad, although Gunners team-mate Bukayo Saka has been forced to leave the camp after testing positive for Covid.
‘Getting called up shows what I am doing is really paying off,’ White said. ‘I was at a new club and wanted to start off well but that didn’t happen.
‘But I took it game by game, playing as well as I can for Arsenal. The last time I got called up I was straight into a tournament – so to come back in and be part of it again is a really nice feeling.’
White’s rivals for the England centre-back position include Harry Maguire and Tyrone Mings, who have both endured difficult spells for Manchester United and Aston Villa respectively.
But White is more than aware of the pair’s talent and says they were both ‘amazing’ at last summer’s Euros as England reached the final before losing to Italy on penalties.
‘Look at what they did last summer, how amazing they were,’ White added.
‘Form is temporary. The way they trained when I was here for the Euros was something that I aim to try and be like.’
Following the international break, White will refocus on Arsenal’s Premier League campaign, with Mikel Arteta’s side facing a trip to London rivals Crystal Palace on April 4.