Arsene Wenger needs height to complete his Arsenal squad

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We are one game into the new Premier League season and Arsenal are in full-blown crisis. What else is new?

Per Mertesacker and Gabriel were lost to injury before the contest had even got underway before Alex Iwobi and Aaron Ramsey joined them in the treatment room. But it is not just the familiar fitness issues that are playing on Arsene Wenger's mind.

The Frenchman, in the final year of his contract and under more pressure from fans than ever, has been unable to compete in the transfer market. A deal for Jamie Vardy fell flat on its face while a tame bid for Alexandre Lacazette and a stalling move for Shkodran Mustafi adds to the frustration.

Following their 4-3 defeat to Liverpool, Henry Winter of The Times called for change at Arsenal and compared Wenger's downfall to a Shakespearean tragedy. While there may be a hefty amount of poetic license attached to that, the concept that Arsenal need a wholesale change holds plenty of weight.

If by some miracle, Wenger manages to sign both Mustafi and Lacazette in the next two weeks, fans would most likely be satisfied with their club's summer business. But is the Lyon striker and the Valencia centre-back really what Arsenal require? There is evidence to suggest that they are, in fact, exactly what Arsenal do not need.

Size matters

For the last decade, Wenger's affinity towards diminutive players has essentially been a project of championing style over substance. Arsenal have continued to produce some fine football under Wenger's watch but their lack of trophies and constant failure against the Premier League's most physical sides have been just as prominent.

Yet the players have continued to shrink in size to the point where last season they had the smallest team in the Premier League with an average height of 1.79 centimetres. Gary Neville was one of the first to notice.

In August 2015, he questioned Wenger's faith in small, technical players and said a team had never won the Premier League with a side like Arsenal. Instead, the teams required a balance of powerful, imposing players to go alongside them.

That was true of Leicester City, who stormed to the Premier League title with a back two of Robert Huth and Wes Morgan. Both considered slow and old, their physical presence was a cornerstone of Leicester's unlikely triumph. 

The best Arsenal side Wenger has produced had similarly imposing figures with the 1.92m Patrick Vieira and 1.85m Emmanuel Petit, Gilberto Silva and Edu in midfield. Tony Adams was almost never beaten in the air while his successor, Sol Campbell, was equally dominant.

Short in defence

That makes Wenger's reported transfer targets all the more baffling. He had already found the formula for success but continues to stray away from it. Mustafi, albeit a good defender, stands at 1.84m, smaller than Laurent Koscielny (1.86m) and notably slower.

Gabriel (1.85m) is also taller and he has already struggled to deal with the physicality from the Premier League's biggest forwards. How would Mustafi handle a day out with Diego Costa or Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

Compare that with Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly, who Arsenal were linked with before Chelsea came in and drove up the price. He comes in at 1.95m, only slightly shorter than Per Mertesacker but faster along the ground. His tremendous presence is well suited for a Premier League that appears to be getting faster and stronger with every season.

Perhaps that is why Antonio Conte is reportedly willing to pay £45million to secure his services. That fee is always going to be too much for a man like Wenger but he must surely see the potential for Koulibaly to be a world-class performer.

Striking the balance

The same must be said of their pursuit of the 1.75m Lacazette. Wenger got a taste of what a diminutive striker looks like in the Premier League against Liverpool. Alexis Sanchez, at 1.69m lost six of his seven aerial battles during the game and was completely outmuscled on the ground. By the end of it, he had just one shot – off target and outside the box – to his name and four offsides.

That is not because Sanchez is a bad player but simply because featherweight strikers can no longer flourish in the Premier League. Out of the six top scorers in the Premier League last season, only one, Sergio Aguero, is smaller than Lacazette. The difference, of course, is that Aguero is widely considered to be one of the world's premiere hitmen.

That is precisely why Theo Walcott (1.76m) has given up his dream of becoming one and that is also why Sanchez is best out on the left, where he can compete against full-backs of similar stature.

Lacazette, although a top performer in Ligue 1, would struggle with the deep lines that Arsenal face almost every single week. His pace will be nullified and his lack of strength will be exposed. Those deep defensive lines are also why Vardy doubted he could flourish at the Emirates.

Unfortunately, Arsenal still need a striker and the perfect package is not going to come cheap. Romelu Lukaku. Tall (1.91m), fast and impeccably strong, the Belgian would be perfect but his £65m price tag is way out of reach for Arsenal's financial arm.

Olivier Giroud (1.92m) is still incredibly underrated by Arsenal fans. He scored 16 goals in the Premier League last season but his link-up play with the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil was just as important as hitting the back of the net. It was a connection sorely missed against Jurgen Klopp's men.

He will be back soon while Danny Welbeck, who at 1.85m and rapidly fast, has the potential to be the complete package for the Gunners, but only if his injury problems are solved. Wenger will know this, which possibly explains why a second bid for Lacazette has never materialised.

The perfect package

The recent additions in midfield of Mohamed Elneny (1.8) and Granit Xhaka (1.85) indicate an acknowledgement from Wenger to increase the size of his squad but that must now translate to both the defence and attack.

Unless Wenger can afford to sign Lukaku, a man who has everything Arsenal need in a striker, there seems little point investing a large portion of money in a man who can offer nothing new.

Until a striker of that calibre comes within reach, Wenger must focus on an area that needs strengthening now, the defence. It might take a record deal to prise Koulibaly away from Napoli but for their money, they will get something they have not enjoyed since their title-winning days. That is someone who has both the strength to handle any Premier League striker as well as the pace to catch them.

Two signings are all that is needed to stem the downfall that seems so inevitable at this moment in time. Neither will come cheap and deals may prove impossible this late into the summer but failure to try would be criminal. Wenger already knows the formula to win titles, he just needs to make it again. 

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Thierry Henry
Jack Wilshere
Alexis Sanchez
Santi Cazorla
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Theo Walcott

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