Wenger: Why I ended my ban on buying players taller than me
Published 23:00 12/09/11 By John Cross in Dortmund
Arsene Wenger has broken his own height rule - but admitted he is too tall to break UEFA’s ban.
Wenger is 6ft 4in and laughed that makes him too big to copy Jose Mourinho, who, according to football lore, smuggled himself into the Chelsea dressing room in a laundry basket to get around a European touchline ban.
The lanky Arsenal boss, who begins a two-match suspension when they face Borussia Dortmund here in Germany on Tuesday, admitted he has always tried to avoid signing a player who was taller than himself, but even that has gone out of the window this summer.
Wenger grabbed 6ft 6in centre-half Per Mertesacker to strengthen his defence and the Germany international will be expected to bring some leadership, especially with his manager banished to the stands.
“I am too tall for that - and the laundry baskets are too small in Germany!” laughed the Frenchman. “But, no I will not do that.
“I will send my vibes and hope they will not be detected by UEFA! I give my team-talk at the hotel before we go to the game.
“When I arrive at the stadium, I cannot go to the dressing room. I don’t think I will be man-marked. If you want to respect the rule strictly, you should be marked by two men - one on the right and one on the left.
“I have to leave it to (assistant) Pat Rice. We will go through all the situations before the game. Pat will make the right decisions. For once, I will have somebody else to blame!”
Wenger was in jovial mood ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League opener and also explained his bizarre reluctance to sign a player who was taller than himself.
He has relaxed the principle in certain cases in the past - Patrick Vieira is also 6ft 4in, for example - but, after conceding from so many set-pieces last season, height and physical strength were required, and that is why Arsenal paid £10m for Mertesacker.
When asked about his height rule, Wenger said: “I don’t like to do that, in fairness. Usually I look at the quality of the player and not at the size. Because we play a very technical game, I usually choose smaller players.
“We play a more technical game, I choose smaller players. But in Mertesacker’s case, I felt that with Thomas Vermaelen’s injury and the uncertainty we had with him last season when he was due to be out for three days but it turned out to be six months, I felt we needed him.
“Johan Djourou sometimes has a knee problem. So I didn’t want to take the gamble of having just two defenders.
“Mertesacker is a calming presence, he has over 70 caps with Germany so he has experience and people forget he is only 26 years old.”
Wenger insisted that Mertesacker will cope with the English game despite accusations in Germany that he is too slow and immobile.
“He must get used to the pace of the game,” admitted the Gunners boss. “It is an issue because he was surprised by that, but overall he has qualities we need in our team.
“He reads well the game, has good communication with the other players, he knows how important it is to communicate. That will play a big part in our season.”
Wenger admits it is difficult to tell whether Arsenal - who will be without injured midfielders Tomas Rosicky and Aaron Ramsey for the group opener - will be serious Champions League contenders this season.
But he does believe that Barcelona and Real Madrid are in danger of pulling away from the rest in Europe - including Manchester clubs United and City.
Spanish football even went on strike in protest at the growing gulf between the top two and the rest because of individual bargaining rights in TV.
“I believe this season that I see two teams that are above the rest - Real Madrid and Barcelona - and the rest have to catch up during the season," said Wenger.
“I saw Pep Guardiola two weeks ago when we had our managers' meeting and they knew they were lucky on the day against us last season, that we had Robin van Persie sent off and that Cesc Fabregas wasn’t 100 per cent.
“But for us it’s a new start because we are a new squad. And what is at stake during the group stages for us is to show that we can go through. They have shown they can win it so at the moment, it’s too early to compare us to them.
“It’s a bit early to compare City with Barca at the moment. That does not take any credit away from City but Barca have World Cup winners and two Champions Leagues in the last three seasons. So I think it’s too early for Man City.”
Wenger believes Dortmund will be a tough test - and that victory for his team could also provide a huge confidence boost.
“The start is very important," he added. "You need to win all your home games and then try to grab between three and five points away from home. This would be a good start for us.”
BORUSSIA DORTMUND v ARSENAL: PROBABLE TEAMS
Borussia Dortmund: Weidenfeller; Piszczek, Subotic, Hummels, Schmelzer; Bender, Gundogan,Gotze, Kagawa, Grosskreutz; Lewandowski.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Gibbs; Song, Arteta, Benayoun; Walcott, Gervinho, Van Persie.
BORUSSIA DORTMUND v ARSENAL: THREE TO WATCH
Neven Subotic Giant Serbian defender who has been watched and courted by all of the Premier League’s top clubs.
Mario Gotze German international and Dortmund’s playmaker. Only 19 and is on Arsenal’s radar - but many others like him.
Robert Lewandowski Polish striker who has been winding up his international team mate Wojciech Szczesny. In good form this season.