The fan - Hunter Davies spots the first gloves of the winter

On Saturday, at precisely 12.30, I spotted the first gloves of the winter, writes <strong>Hunter Dav

Football is a seasonal game. It is played in seasons. Inside a football season, there are other seasons, starting roughly at the same time each year, heralding the beginning of, well, whatever seasonal activity is beginning again.

Last Saturday, 25 October, at precisely 12.30, I spotted my first gloves. They were worn by Christophe Dugarry of Birmingham City, the only gloved player on the pitch. A rather fine sighting, much earlier than usual, and made more interesting by the presence of several Africans (Jay Jay Okocha, for example) who have played for most of their lives in hot countries and would in theory be more likely to don gloves, while Dugarry is French, where the winters can be perishing.

I've written to the Times, saying I have seen Lobby Lud and I claim my £5. (Lobby Lud was a 1930s News Chronicle promotion who went round seaside towns, and if you spotted him - oh, do your own research, or I'll never get on.)

The other hardy annual event, for the sixth time running, is Arsenal being rubbish in Europe. As per usual, they start off with such high hopes, brilliant in England, leading the Premiership, and then come up against some funny foreign teams and - biff, boff - collapse of fragile parties. And each year we get the same head scratchings, followed by the same explanations, trotted out by the clever pundits:

l Arsenal are too predictable.

l Actually, deep down, they're rubbish.

l Hold on, it's the Premiership that's rubbish, not a patch on the Spanish and Italian leagues.

That's the sensible rationale. Then we have the bizarre or the conspiratorial:

l Arsene Wenger has a prenuptial deal with Real Madrid to manage them next season, so he has to let them win the European Cup.

l Paul Burrell,with all his Diana millions is bribing the Arsenal players to throw games so that shares will go down and, bingo, he can take over the club.

l Two seasons ago, it was Wembley's fault. When Arsenal played there, they got stuffed. Now it's clear that Highbury is cursed. Next season, Arsenal will play all home games on Hackney Marshes.

It is indeed a huge mystery, puzzling all Arsenal fans, amusing all others. How come a team who are essentially foreign - Arsenal never have more than three Brits on the pitch and have a foreign manager - get stuffed whenever they play a foreign team?

Wenger is revered in England, but in Europe they know he was a nobody as a player, hardly shining in the Strasbourg under-13s. So they are not scared of him, or his tactics. They also know that Arsenal's defence is porous, like most in England. The top Italian teams have enormous discipline, on and off the pitch.

They take diet and training very seriously, perfecting their skills, obeying tactics and instructions. By comparison, our lads are free spirits, indulging themselves on and off the pitch. Thus Arsenal's defence gives away a soft goal, which leaves Arsenal's attack, so lethal in England, to score, which means it's left to Henry.

Pires is pretty but ornamental. Balls get put over, or threaded through, but there's no one there. Arsenal have no proper centre-forward, someone who naturally gets into the box. Franny Jeffers was a half-hearted and pathetic attempt to solve this problem, but was quickly dumped. I blame Wenger. He's had long enough to sort it out.

I'd have bought James Beattie. I'm sure he'd still be pleased to come from Southampton and improve his England chances. Not a huge natural talent, but he'd play the Alan Shearer/ Malcolm Macdonald role, a worker in the box, always a threat. Until they get such a person, they lack variety in approach and tactics. They might surprise us all against Kiev and suddenly start winning in Europe, but I doubt it.

I fear the seasonal disorder syndromes will continue - ie, I'll be writing the same column at precisely this time next year . . .

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