Arsène Wenger was recently questioned about the size of Arsenal’s squad – that’s the size of each individual in it rather than the total number of players – with the news that on the first day of the season the team was the shortest and lightest on average in the Premier League. The average Arsenal player that day was just 5ft 9in (175cm) and 11 stone (70kg). Cazorla is 5ft 6in, Wilshere and Sanchez are both 5ft 7in. If Mertesacker had played the average would have risen an inch though. Look though, our boys are an average 1 stone 4 lbs lighter than Chelsea (that’s 16 lbs or 7kg). And that’s after they’ve got rid of Lampard! (I jest – you are fatter than Lampard, believe me.) Anyway, joking aside, it is true that Arsenal as a squad seem to have been losing weight for some years.
Arsène’s reply on the subject was, “When we buy a player we do not look at how heavy he is but how good he is. You always want to improve technically and sometimes you go for skill.
“At the time when Vieira left we had Fabregas who was 17 years old. You cannot say you are not heavy enough so you cannot play. He had the quality to play.
“So it is a coincidence that we are a bit lightweight. Maybe because we use more technical players in the middle of the park, especially Arteta. It depends on who I play. If I play Cazorla or Podolski the weight is a bit different. But it’s true we are a bit more lightweight than before, when we had Petit, Vieira, Parlour. On Fridays when we checked the weight it was quite something then.”
Well okay, that’s all fair enough. Obviously you don’t turn down Cesc for only being 11 stone, but that’s partly because he was well on the way to being World Class. And there’s no deliberate policy to buy small players, I accept that. But what Arsène is not facing up to is that it’s a disadvantage to have too many small players in the same team. Surely he must know this. Surely he must see it allows some teams to bully us off the ball far too easily. You need variety in a team, but if there’s a lack of it then I’d rather err on the side of too many big players than too many small ones. And I don’t mean Jan Molby/Mickey Quinn-big, I mean Patrick Vieira/Thierry Henry-big: 6 foot 3 or 4, 13 stone of muscle. No pushing off the ball there.
Now hold on, you may say, who am I to tell Arsène what sort of player to buy? How many days never mind years have I worked in football management at any level? And of course this is a perfectly legitimate question that often comes up when anyone dares to question what Arsène is doing. So let me make this clear: I don’t think I can manage Arsenal better than Arsène Wenger does. No really, I don’t. There is a lot more to football management than just spending money and shouting. I’m sure there are many, many aspects of the role that, while I or most other intelligent people could do them to a certain level, Arsène can do better. But – and this is a big but – that doesn’t mean I can’t see ways for him to improve things. Actually doing the things is harder, but then he has still got £50m+ that he could have spent in an attempt to solve the problem, assuming of course that he sees it as a problem. (If he doesn’t see it as a problem then the issue is different: we will get bullied every time we play Chelsea, and he won’t be able to see why.)
All managers have coaches working for them, and though the title Assistant Manager seems to be out of fashion these days, managers still have people to take advice from. Do you think they say to these people, “How dare you make a suggestion? How long have you worked as a Premier League manager?” Of course not. Well, not usually. But Arsène does it with any criticism or even what he thinks are leading questions from outside the camp. He regularly has a go at reporters who put the sort of questions to him that 99.9 per cent of fans can see need to be asked, eg: “As you have £50m+ to spend, why not buy another defender or defensive midfielder while you can?” The other 0.1 per cent of fans are so blinded by Arsène’s genius that they believe those of us asking or even thinking such questions simply aren’t clever enough to understand the methods of the great man. They pity our ignorance.
Well, that seems to have turned from a quick discussion on the average height of Arsenal players to me once again inviting the 0.1 per cent to tell me I’m an idiot. Which I’m sure they will.