Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference?

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Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference? - GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference? - GETTY IMAGES

It took Takehiro Tomiyasu only 62 minutes to win over some of the Arsenal fans who might have been concerned that their deadline day signing was little more than a desperate panic buy. Thrown into Mikel Arteta’s team after just two training sessions, Tomiyasu produced a debut full of energy, physicality and commitment against Norwich City last weekend.

When he came off the pitch, after suffering from a hint of cramp following his travels during the international break, Tomiyasu was given a standing ovation by the home crowd and was even serenaded with a chant, of sorts. “Tomi, Tomi, Tomi,” they roared near the dugout.

To outside observers, it was something of a surprise that Tomiyasu was so quickly brought into the team following his £16m move from Bologna. That is, at least, until one considers Arsenal’s destination this weekend. Turf Moor and the giants of Burnley lie in wait, and Tomiyasu’s strength in the air will be needed in his first away game. If Norwich offered the first taste of English football for Tomiyasu, then Burnley will surely offer the first real test.

Although he has been signed primarily as a right-back, Tomiyasu provides a centre-back’s build. He stands at a commanding 6ft 2in, and is by no means gangly. The Japan international is physically robust, and in Italy he gained a reputation for being uncompromising in his defending.

Nowhere in the Premier League will this power be more useful than at Burnley, where the crosses swirl towards the back post and the aerial threats are numerous. Such approaches have often proved successful against the notoriously soft Arsenal over the last decade, but Arteta’s new defensive spine looks far more physically capable than previous editions.

Based on the average height of Arsenal’s preferred back four (Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel, Kieran Tierney) this is the club’s tallest first-choice back-line in their Premier League history. This is largely the result of Tomiyasu’s arrival, with the 22-year-old adding a third physical defensive presence in a position where most teams usually select more diminutive full-backs.

Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference? - GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference? - GETTY IMAGES

It is also a reflection of the size of Gabriel Magalhaes, who is 6ft 3in and is, by any measure, one of the Premier League’s heavyweight defenders. As for White, he is taller than many realise: Arsenal’s £50m centre-back is 6ft 2in, although his physique is more lean than the bulky Gabriel alongside him.

None of this is to say that Arsenal will have no problems coping with the Burnley bombardment. Clearly, there is more to defending crosses than just being tall. Pablo Mari, Gabriel’s deputy for the opening games of the season, was bullied in the air at Brentford despite being a giant of a man.

White has also faced criticism for his heading ability, which is perhaps a consequence of his previous responsibilities at Brighton: playing with Adam Webster and Lewis Dunk, White would usually take a covering role instead of challenging for the initial header. It was surely no coincidence that he looked more assured against Norwich, lining up next to the domineering Gabriel, than he did at Brentford on the opening day of the campaign.

“I fully trust him,” said Arteta of White. “He knows what he is going to face, not just him but every defender in the Premier League. You are going to be exposed and he needs to do what he is good at. The things that he can improve, he can improve them, but when you jump against [Chris] Wood ten times, with a ball flying in the air, it is pretty difficult to win every duel. So it is about that duel and what happens around him as well.”

Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference? - GETTY IMAGES
Arsenal have assembled their tallest defence in 30 years - but will it make any difference? - GETTY IMAGES

No team has won more of these aerial duels this season than Burnley, while only three teams have played more crosses. It evidently does not require hours of video analysis to know where the threat will come from on Saturday. “We know how tough it is to go to Burnley,” said Arteta. “We know the game we can expect there and we will be prepared for that.”

Along with the arrival of Tomiyasu and the return to fitness of Gabriel (and Thomas Partey, another imposing figure), Arteta will also have the option of Aaron Ramsdale in goal. Ramsdale made his first Premier League start last weekend and is seen to be more commanding in his box, especially from crosses, than Bernd Leno. More defensive ballast, more reason to believe that Arsenal can cope with the threat.

With their added physical power at the back, Arsenal seem better prepared for a tussle than they have been for a long time. Whether that will be enough at Turf Moor is, of course, another matter. Arsenal are not necessarily a better side because they are a bigger side but, on days like this, it certainly helps.

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