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.