Artists and warriors

With no balance in the team, Arsène let his Gunners fizzle out

I have this doctor friend in Loweswater and once again he’s sent me an email showing a cupboard with empty shelves.

The caption is “Arsenal’s trophy cabinet 2008-2009”.

He thinks it’s hilarious, but then doctors have a funny sense of humour. His team is Spurs and he calls Arsenal “the scum”. Of course not, don’t be daft, he doesn’t actually go and watch them play. Or go to any game. He’s just one of millions who have a favourite team, like they have a favourite pair of socks, breakfast cereal, girl they fancy off the telly. (Mine currently, as you ask, is that one Martin Clunes fancies in Reggie Perrin who used to be in Moving Wallpaper.)

As a Spurs fan, I don’t hate Arsenal.

I watch dozens of their games each season, enjoy it when they play well and admire their stars, for it is football I love best, rather than just one club. But the most enjoyable bit of all is
that I don’t care if they lose – not bothered, not my team.

This season I do find myself caring. What the fuck has gone wrong? Which is what all Arse fans are saying, especially the home ones, though it was silly of Arsène to have a go at them, saying they made him feel like a murderer.

Arsène, old son, it is your fault.

For four years you’ve said, “Trust me, next season we will flower.” You’ve murdered their hopes.

Fabregas, from whom so much was expected, has disappeared. Adebayor has shrunk. Walcott still can’t shoot, Van Persie is a shadow of his former self, while the lumps, the hard men like Touré and Éboué, who should have taken on the Vieira or Petit enforcer roles, have been exposed as second-rate.

If anything, Arsenal are going backwards.

If there was one answer, Arsène would find it, being so clever, calm, cool, philosophical, but of course there isn’t – unless it is Arsène himself, for being so cool, clever, philosophical. Arsène is one of nature’s middle-class professionals and goes for players like himself – artistic, sensitive, awfully thin types.

Fergie is working class, a jumped-up trade-unionist bully boy. He has always loved combative players in his own image, like Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Rooney.

But, and here is the difference between them, Fergie has always combined the warriors with the artists. Arsène can’t quite bring himself to do it. Berbatov, for example, is a perfect Arsenal player – too damn languid for his own good, an artist fallen among thugs, yet there he is, playing for Man United. At the moment, anyway.

Arsène managed to have a Fergie-type player with Vieira, but hasn’t replaced him, though Touré, when he arrived, looked a possibility.

Arsène, as a manager, has, like his own team, stopped developing.

Fergie just gets better, as do his players. Look how well the middling, journeyman triers have done this season, such as O’Shea and Fletcher. That must be Fergie’s doing. The point, surely, of having so many young, promising players at Arsenal is that Arsène will make them grow and flourish. It’s not happening.

I don’t think having so many kids in the team is in itself bad.

It’s their type and character being too similar, not their age. But I’m beginning to believe that having them from so many different countries is a handicap.

Arshavin is excellent, but he’s another lost soul. You need a hard core of native players, even just three or four, who help cohesion, shout at each other in their own language, drag the others along. So often Arsenal seem to consist of 11 strangers stumbling in the dark.

Ah well, next season they’re bound to come good.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.