Andrey Arshavin, who stands at 5′7″, has complained that Arsenal’s squad is too small to compete at the highest level in the Premiership and, despite their good start to the season and fluid style of football, the Russian has a point. Arsene Wenger builds his team around skilful players who pass and move well – except for Abou Diaby! – but in doing so he has declined to bring in any big men to provide an aerial threat or physical presence and as a result Arsenal can be bullied off the ball too easily. This was definitely the case last weekend when Arsenal played Chelsea; harried off the ball by their bigger, stronger opponents, Arsenal had no answers. And who was the man who controlled their destruction? Didier Drogba, a typical big, strong striker who could easily shrug off the attentions of Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas. Imagine if Drogba had been up against Brede Hangeland or Nemanja Vidic – he may still have performed well but would not have had the massive advantage he did over his smaller foes.
Every kind of footballer has their advantages particularly when it comes to defenders. A fast defender will be able to deny a pacy striker from outdoing them and can react fast but generally doesn’t have the physical presence to aid them against big men whilst the big defenders generally lumber around clumsily and, though they hold their own against the likes of Drogba, they’ll often struggle to deal with the pace of strikers – much like Nemanja Vidic always does with Fernando Torres. You can see why Wenger does not want big defenders, their clumsy no-nonsense style of play contradicts his flowing football way but every team needs spoilers – look at Carles Puyol of Barcelona; granted he’s not a big player but he is the kind of no-nonsense physical presence who will end opposition attacks whilst the rest of his team flows majestically. And it’s not just in defence where Arsenal have problems with their squad size – they’re beaten in the air in midfield and have hardly any aerial threat up front, particularly with Nicklas Bendtner out injured and he’s not exactly a top class striker despite his height.
It’s been proven before that sides consisting of many small players are too lightweight to do well in the league; the Man City team of a couple of years ago was too small and weak and were promptly battered away from home quite regularly as physical teams knew how to deal with them. It’s the reason why teams like Blackburn or Bolton have managed to get results against better teams like Arsenal before – they bully them off the pitch and, whilst it’s not pretty, it’s effective. Big players are always needed for success – look at strike partnerships – the combination of two little men up front has been proven not to work apart from rare occasions while the mix of big man/little man usually works wonders and is the preferred tactic of many top flight managers if they do use more than one striker.
Arshavin has been full of complaints in his latest outburst, fuming that Arsenal have failed to get results against any of the top teams and this is understandable as the Gunners to consider themselves to be title contenders. They play the best football out of any team in the Premiership and outplay most opponents so the fact that they’re still struggling to mount a serious challenge indicates there’s something wrong and Arshavin’s spot on – it’s the lack of height. It’s been highlighted many times before; I remember an incident for Cesc Fabregas was left on the post for a Liverpool corner in a Champion’s League clash between the two and Sami Hyypia headed the ball directly at that side where it flew over Fabregas’s head. Fabregas couldn’t reach it – he’s not tall enough to reach the top of his goal and that’s where Arsenal’s problem stands. Vermaelen has proven a great defensive signing but he hasn’t addressed the physical problems Arsenal have – Wenger’s being encouraged to spend in January and he would be very wise to get a couple of big players in, just to balance the squad and give them options.