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Daily Mirror
Daily Mirror
Samuel Meade

Ben White set for key role as Mikel Arteta's shaky Arsenal defence faces toughest test

The last time Arsenal played Manchester City their full strength backline shipped three.

On that evening at the Emirates the Gunners enjoyed more possession than their title rivals and showed that, for long periods, they could match them. What they couldn't do though was live with how clinical the Premier League champions are as Kevin De Bruyne, Jack Grealish and Erling Haaland all scored.

Arsenal head to the Etihad missing defensive linchpin William Saliba, and in his absence Ben White will need to have his best game of the season to stifle the threat posed by Grealish, who is often assisted by De Bruyne and Haaland.

The former Brighton man has impressed on the right of defence having shifted out from his previous central role so that Saliba could be accommodated. There had been talk of him filing back in, but it looks as if Rob Holding will retain his starting berth despite some shaky performances.

It leaves White to try and keep Grealish, his England team-mate, quiet in what has been his best period since his move to City. The playmaker has found a home out on the left and has regularly influenced big games, including the win at Arsenal.

Mikel Arteta detailed the narrative around that crucial defeat, hailing his players, but confessing that their title rivals were simply more potent in the box, with their chances often stemming from a rare error. Rare it may be, but it was punished, which underlines the fine margin with which the Gunners have to deal with.

The Spanish coach said: "You can't give anything away. That's for sure. Big teams, they punish you straight away. For many periods in that game, we did really really well and we deserved much better. But again, we had one or two moments that we gave them, and in those moments, the game was over."

Grealish has thrived in the City system, after having a year of Guardiola education, and the team's chief playmaker, De Bruyne, often drifts over to create an overload. The focal point provided by Haaland can often occupy the central defenders, which limits how much help Arsenal can give to White.

Despite the conundrums facing the north Londoners, Arteta is adamant that the Gunners need to focus on their own game. They desperately need to wrestle back some momentum after conceding seven goals in their last three games, which has also seen them drop six points.

He said: "We just focus on us: we know what they want to do, what they’re going to try to do and they can do various things. They can play with a box inside, they can play with a diamond, they can build the game with three, they can be asymmetric on one side, they can pull one out on the right and play a diamond, they can put [Kyle] Walker higher. They can do so many things that you have to be able to adapt to, so you have to focus on certain principles to try and play the game how you want."

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