GARETH SOUTHGATE will be finding it harder and harder to ignore Ben White.
The Arsenal defender, 25, was left out of England‘s squad for their Nations League games against Italy and Germany last month.
Since then, Chelsea man Reece James has joined Kyle Walker on the sidelines and is now a major doubt for the World Cup.
Trent Alexander-Arnold has been desperately struggling for form, with Kieran Trippier the only Three Lions star maintaining his level on the right side of a Premier League defence.
There are fears England do not have the individual quality to line up with a back four, particularly given the issues around Harry Maguire and the unprovent nature of some of his replacements at international level.
But White at right-back may well be the perfect compromise between a leaky four and a creatively wasteful five.
If there is a criticism you can level at England’s greatest manager since Sir Alf Ramsey – and there shouldn’t be – then it is that the style of football has not been particularly thrilling.
That was all well and good when they were racking up the wins, but recent results have brought the concerned voices back to the fore.
Many want to see an extra attacker in the team – whether that be Jude Bellingham alongside Declan Rice or switching to a back four and freeing up an additional space in midfield.
White’s inclusion is one way of facilitating that.
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His previous four England caps have all come as part of a back three.
But Takehio Tomiyasu’s fitness issues at the start of this season have seen him become Arsenal’s first-choice right-back.
And he is showing himself to be a dab hand in the position.
The former Brighton man has started all 11 of Arsenal‘s league matches and is fast becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.
And he offers something each of the other England hopefuls do not.
What sets him apart from James is White plays as part of a back four every week.
He also has experience in a centre-back partnership – something which could come in handy if Southgate wants to change formation mid-game.
That is a facet Trippier, Walker and Alexander-Arnold do not have in their arsenal, while his defending ability already puts him ahead of the Liverpool man in the queue for a spot in a back four.
And his attacking output is also starting to catch the eye.
If Southgate is concerned putting White at right-back would negate England’s width going forward, then he needn’t worry.
The Arsenal man produced an inch-perfect cross for Granit Xhaka to dispatch and set the Gunners on their way.
Arteta’s side did end up >Stuart Armstrong earned Southampton a point.
But it would be harsh to pin that goal on White – who was acting as a covering centre-half and was exposed by Gabriel getting drawn to the ball.
His versatility could prove crucial if we want to avoid Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka, Jack Grealish and Marcus Rashford all sitting on the bench.
But it remains to be seen whether his run for a place in Qatar has come a little too late.
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