I remember countless occasions over the years in which we’ve implored Arsenal to part with their cash, to loosen the purse strings in order to land that ‘missing piece’ player we’ve all been crying out for.
Who can forget the Luis Suarez debacle? Missing out on Gonzalo Higuain for the want of a few million? Refusing to stump up an extra £5,000 a week to keep Ashley Cole? Being gazumped by Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo?
The list is seemingly endless and full of ‘ifs’, ‘buts’ and ‘maybes’ over players who could have made a huge impact in north London for the want of just a little more money, money that would have been available if we’d really needed it.
So why then do we find ourselves hand-wringing over the reported £50million deal for England centre back Ben White? What is it about the deal that makes us so uncomfortable? Why aren’t we all jumping for joy that Arsenal are showing some ambition in the transfer market?
In truth, it’s difficult to answer. There just seems to be something about it that doesn’t sit right.
Of course, this could all be academic if White joins and develops into a defensive behemoth, a firm fixture in our back line for the next decade and our next title-winning captain but all that coming to pass is far from certain. This feels like a gamble and not one we have been accustomed to seeing our club make.
There have been plenty of mistakes over the years but, for the most part, they have been cheap mistakes. For all his spendthrift folly, Arsene Wenger rarely got it badly wrong when he parted with a significant sum. The list of expensive flops on his watch is small.
And perhaps that’s what lies at the heart of our collective trepidation over this deal, we just don’t know enough about White. Is any centre-back really worth £50million?
I think there is also a feeling of hesitancy around just how much of our summer transfer budget has been allocated to this signing, particularly when the club has laid off so many staff, cut wages, cut its mascot and posted eye-watering financial losses in the wake of pandemic-induced pressure on our revenues.
If we really have £50million to invest in a single player this summer, should that money not have gone towards a world-beating centre midfielder or a number 10? Could we not have found a player as good as White in the cash-strapped Ligue 1 or La Liga for a fraction of the price?
There are a lot of unanswered questions around this deal, and that’s before we’ve even pondered where all of this leaves William Saliba, and I think that’s what makes us uncomfortable. We don’t quite know how to feel. We’re not bitterly opposed but we’re not jumping for joy. It’s an unusual feeling that we can’t place and that we’re just not used to.
It goes without saying that, if White does join, he will have the full support of the fan base and be taken into our hearts from the moment that #WelcomeBen hashtag is released but I fear he may become something of a poster boy for Arteta’s reign if things don’t go to plan. Like Nicolas Pepe has found, every slip, trip, or misplaced pass is viewed through the prism of his price tag and it has taken almost two full season for him to come to grips with that.
There is nowhere to hide when you’re in the heart of the defence so, for White, that £50million will float above his head from the first minute to the last. I hope he has shoulders broad enough to deal with that.
In the end, we have to trust that Mikel Arteta, Edu and KSE know what they are doing and are better placed to know what the club can and can’t do financially than us. After all, if these owners are comfortable parting with the cash, why shouldn’t we be?