Does Size Matter? and Where Have All the Arsenal Six-Footers Gone?

By Davies, Hunter | New Statesman (1996), October 3, 2014 | Go to article overview

Does Size Matter? and Where Have All the Arsenal Six-Footers Gone?


Davies, Hunter, New Statesman (1996)


At half-time in the Arsenal-Spurs game on 27 September, I had to rub my eyes when I saw Santi Cazorla getting ready to come on. He was standing beside the towering, 6ft 3in, besuited, headmasterly figure of the Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger. At 5ft 6in, Cazorla looked like Wenger's grandson or, perhaps, a child mascot who'd been allowed on to the pitch to amuse us.

Then, in the second half, the 5ft 7in Alexis Sanchez came on, replacing Jack Wilshere who, at 5ft 8in, isn't the shortest of Arsenal's midfielders. What is going on--with Arsenal and with football?

I remember being at an Arsenal game 14 or so years ago and noticing that practically the whole team was 6ft or taller: Patrick Vieira was 6ft 4in, Thierry Henry was 6ft 2in, Dennis Bergkamp was 6ft 1in, Robert Pires was 6ft 2in. Emmanuel Petit, despite his name, was 6ft 1in. As usual when you spot an interesting fact, you think up an interesting theory to explain it--often total bollocks, but that hasn't stopped economists, sociologists and historians from making a decent living these past 200 years.

I decided to check the heights of Arsenal players from the pre-war years--easy to find, because when they played in Cup finals or for England or Scotland the programme always gave full details of each player's height and weight. Often in the 1930s, not one Arsenal player was 6ft tall; even goalies rarely got above 5ft loin. Their weight, though, was often 12 or 13 stone. Small and squat, that was the average professional footballer.

Clearly the changes reflected the world in general, as people have grown about two inches taller since the war. Football was simply mirroring ordinary life. It also reflected what was happening in football. Foreign managers were weaning our native players off their chips and booze-ups, producing leaner, taller players. And with better, faster pitches, free of mud, the bullet-headed, slow and lumpen doggers had been evolutioned out, as had the small and weedy.

I had a subsidiary theory that Wenger preferred players built in his own image--stick-like six-footers, with or without a nice dark suit and woolly waistcoat. …

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