As Good As It Gets …….. 26th May 1989

March 28, 2020

What with the lockdown because of Covid19 and the media frenzy that has accompanied it I thought it would be nice to share my story of possibly the greatest evening in Arsenal’s history.

As most will know the football season in 1988/89 was interrupted by the Hillsborough disaster. That day I was in the North Bank watching Arsenal beat Newcastle on a sunny afternoon. As news trickled through on the terraces the assumption was there had been rioting at Hillsborough. News didn’t travel as fast those days. As the disaster unfolded it became clear that football would be put on hold while people were laid to rest.

The football started again, as it always does, with Arsenal in pole position for the league. Things changed: Liverpool had a new purpose to their season and Arsenal started to fold. The Liverpool v Arsenal game at Anfield was due to take place on 23rd April 1989 (I’ve still got the ticket stub) but was cancelled as it was a week after Hillsborough. Instead the league season was extended and the game was moved to become the final match of the season on 26th May 1989. As far as I know it’s the only time the top two teams have faced each other in the final game with both having the chance to win the league. Of course Arsenal needed to win by two!

I had a ticket for the original game, but I was going to struggle to get up to the rescheduled game. It was on a Friday night and I was doing exams at school at the time. Luckily a friend of my Mum knew somebody who was taking a minibus to the game and had a couple of spare seats for me and my mate. Also I didn’t have an exam that day. I’m sure my poor marks in GCSE biology haven’t altered the course of my life too much since!

The chances of Arsenal getting a win let alone a 2 goal victory were remote. Liverpool at the time were virtually unbeatable at Anfield, had won the league many times in the 80’s and had a fantastic side. Arsenal  were more industrial under George Graham and hadn’t won the league for 18 years. We went to the game with hope on our side, not much else.

The Friday of the game was a glorious sunny day. The guys with the van wanted to head off early to avoid potential traffic issues on the M1/M6 (wise move) so we set off late morning from Waltham Abbey for the evening kick off. The blokes in the minibus were a nice bunch ranging in age from their 40s to us teenagers. There was plenty of booze doing the rounds and one guy smoked Ganja for the whole journey. We had a kick-about at one of the service stations and then we hit an almighty traffic jam on the M6. As we’d left so much time to get to the game we didn’t miss kick off, but the vast majority of the 3000 travelling Gooners did.

We got to Liverpool and parked up in Stanley Park. The local Scallywags were charging £1 to make sure the tyres weren’t punctured. Real entrepreneurs that lot. Anyway we made it into the away end at Anfield without any bother. When we got onto the visitors terrace there were only a handful of Arsenal fans there, the rest were stuck somewhere down the M6. The visiting supporters at Anfield were given a small corner terrace and some seats next to it in the corner of the Anfield Road end. As with all grounds at the time the fans were crowbarred into a small space with little regard for their welfare. The Kop at the other end was packed with Liverpool fans swaying backward and forward singing away. It was a very intimidating atmosphere.

Before the game the Arsenal players ran out with bouquets of flowers to honour the dead at Hillsborough. This was an amazing touch. Whoever thought that up was a genius. It went down really well with the Liverpool fans, lightened the atmosphere and maybe gave Arsenal something that wasn’t there before. 

The game was a blur at the start. Liverpool really had us on the back foot and surely it was only a matter of time before they would score? Somehow Arsenal held it together with some amazing defensive play. We didn’t have much to grasp at that first half apart from holding the Champions to zero goals: an achievement in itself.

At half time the majority of the Arsenal fans arrived and squeezed into the terrace we were on. We went from having a space to sit down on to being uncomfortably squashed into a spot where it was hard to raise your hands from your sides. All terraces at the time were the same for big matches – downright dangerous.

The 2nd half started with the Liverpool fans to our left singing about how they were going to ‘do the double again’ (turns out Arsenal were the first team to win the double twice in ’98). The atmosphere was bubbling, but we didn’t think we had a goal in us until…Smith scored from a free-kick. The Liverpool players surrounded the linesman right near our corner and pressured him to give offside. I think he was turning but the referee was having none of it and awarded the goal – game on!

As the game approached the final whistle we had a great chance with Thomas, but he fluffed his lines. We thought it was game over as time was slipping away. As we know Thomas was just practising his finishing and deep in injury time flicked the ball over Grobbelaar into the net. There was bedlam in the Arsenal end for the next 30 minutes. I remember the guy next to me on the terrace thanking his God for the victory.

We saw the League Trophy presented and it then dawned on us that we had to make our way back to the minibus and get out of Liverpool with our lives intact. The first hurdle was past the mounted police who were meant to be protecting us. One of the coppers looked at me and said “you’re going to get your heads kicked in” as they trotted off into the night leaving us to our own devices. The scousers approached us but instead of giving us a beating they shook our hands and congratulated us. After Hillsborough I think the Liverpool fans had seen enough and maybe the gesture of the Arsenal players laying the flowers had helped.

Things got hairier once we were heading home in the minibus. A group of youths started throwing things at us when we were at a red light in Toxteth. Without a thought the red light was ignored and we were on our way again. A car tried to run us off the road on the M62, but that was the last problem we encountered.

There was an impromptu party at a small service station somewhere on the M62 where about 100 Gooners gathered and we all did a Conga around the forecourt. I remember somebody taking photos of the event. I’d pay good money to see those. We got back home at about 4 in the morning and my Mum had recorded the match, so I watched the last 10 minutes before heading to bed.

We met up with some of the blokes from the minibus a few times, but fell out of contact with all of them pretty quickly. There was a guy called Richard who arranged the minibus; the driver was a big ginger haired bloke; an Indian lad with long hair; Paul with the big ears; little Graham; a lad with a Celtic top and a few others I think.

At the time I thought I was hugely lucky to have been present for possibly the greatest night in Arsenal’s history. I haven’t changed my opinion over 30 years later.

What a day out that was. One I will never forget!

Pete the Thirst


Is Martinez a keeper?

March 16, 2020

While Leno is not the best GK ever, he is showing signs of improvements and is good on his line and decent with his feet.

He really has to do better with his aerial abilities but overall, I would say he is in the top 8 EPL GK.

What about Martinez? He did not really play well nor poorly. He is a bit of a mystery because we have not really seen him play too much but he is not a keeper that has given me much confidence in case Leno gets injured.

It seems that he has definitely some good shot-stopping quality about him but his aerial ability is also limited and his distribution is not great. He is 27 so one year younger than Leno and we can’t call him a promise anymore.

So what do we do? We keep him and satisfy ourselves with his abilities as a back up and hope that Leno stays fit or do we move to invest in a younger maybe less experienced but more promising GK (Areola, Lafont, Donnaruma, Maximiano…)?

So is Martinez a keeper?

RC78


If you could add one Invincible to our current team to improve it, who would it be?

March 13, 2020

I’m still buzzing from PSG qualifying into the CL 1/4 finals (although anxious that the competition will be cancelled due to Covid-19) and going down the PSG memory lane remembering of times when in the 90s, we had players like Rai that helped us beat teams like Real Madrid, I thought that it would be fun to look back at the Arsenal Invincibles team especially since Liverpool cannot match our feat anymore…What a team we had!


So I asked myself the question, if I could recruit one player from our Invincibles team (took the players with the most played games in the EPL so no Edu or Parlour or Wiltod), who would it be and why?
Lehmann – Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole – Freddie, Vieira, Silva, Pires – Bergkamp, Henry

The obvious choices maybe Lehmann – Campbell – Vieira – Henry but Pires was just phenomenal that year and our defense was hard to break and given the state of our defense, shouldn’t we directly upgrade our RB or LB?


It is hard to tell and I am looking forward to your answers. Remember, the angle is not “who you liked best” from the Invicibles team but which player would improve us the most and address our most pressing weaknesses?


I will share with you my views a bit later as I do not want to influence your opinion 😛

RC78


Saka to Liverpool?

March 11, 2020
 
Make him an offer he can't refuse
Make him an offer he can’t refuse.
If the headline shocked you, it’s because it’s intended to.

We know that the champions-elect are sniffing around our talented young attacker/wingback and they’re not the only ones. If our club doesn’t get its act together we could lose him before his Arsenal career has barely started.

Bukayo Saka has a year left on his Arsenal contract and I would love to be able to sit here and say: “It’s OK, the Arsenal would never let such a highly valued player just walk out the door.”

But we all know that’s not true. To have earned precisely nothing from the departures of Aaron Ramsey and Danny Welbeck last summer is evidence of serious failure at the highest levels of the club.

So how can we be confident that we won’t make the same mistake with Saka? Or that we won’t be forced to sell him at the end of this season?

After all, if he has his head turned by a club that’s currently more successful than we are he can just refuse to sign a contract extension. In those circumstances – and given what happened with Ramsey in particular – it seems inconceivable that the club would not decide that the lesser of two evils is to sell him and take the money rather than wait and let him leave for nothing.

We can only hope that behind the scenes the club is doing all it can to sign him up to a long contract extension. He has shown enough in his outings this season to demonstrate that he can play, score goals and make assists at the highest level.

We have a few things in our favour. Firstly, the fact that Saka has come all the way through the Arsenal youth system, so our club is the only one he has ever known. It has been his home, his school, his family, his place of work and the place where he gets to hang with his mates.

Secondly, he has emerged into the Arsenal first team alongside a group of young players with whom he has already been sharing the ups and downs of football life for many years. We should not underestimate the power of the friendship bonds formed between young men like Saka, Nelson, Willock, Smith-Rowe, Nketieh and Martinelli. You can imagine them wanting to go on to win the big prizes with one another.

Finally, we have the presence (in both senses of the word) of our new head coach, Mikel Arteta. If Emery were still in charge at Arsenal I could well see our best young players being tempted away by the likes of Liverpool or Manchester City. With Arteta at the helm there is a sense of direction and optimism that has been (mostly) lacking for a number of years.

But those three reasons to persuade Saka to stay will not be enough unless the club does its bit in making the young man an acceptable offer. 

Ever since the stadium move we have had a bad habit of blowing deals with penny pinching. 

Take our pursuit of Luis Suarez some years ago when he was at Liverpool. Our inept management team believed he had a £40m buy-out clause so we offered that number plus a pound for a player who was arguably the best striker in the world at the time. The bid, unsurprisingly, was seen in the Liverpool boardroom as a case of us trying to extract the urine; they dug in their heels and we never got Suarez. I’m fairly sure that if we had gone in with a £45m offer we would have got our man and the recent history of Arsenal might have been very different.

I’m not saying we should give Saka a stupidly high number for his new contract (the club has to consider the impact of any raise he gets on the other promising young players who will soon be knocking on the door asking for comparable increases).

But there has to be a concerted effort to make him an attractive offer and to wrap it up in a lovely big bundle of affection and commitment. We should be saying that we see Saka as a future Arsenal legend in the mould of Henry, Pires, Wright and Ljungberg.

If the club lets Saka go, it will be a dereliction of duty that will seriously dent our faith in the management team’s ability to take us back where we belong: competing for the Premier League and the Champions League.

A year later the same issue will be coming up with Guendouzi and Nketieh, so we should be considering extending them even as early as this summer to avoid any cliff edge negotiations in the future.

Will Saka stay? What do you think?

RockyLives


Leave Pepe alone

March 10, 2020

Pepe has been having a frustrating season so far. He has shown glimpse of brilliance in the game, good set-piece delivery and good camaraderie with his teammates BUT he has also been guilty of not playing direct enough, not taking on his defender on a one-on-one enough, always cutting back inside, too many times playing a sideways and backwards.

He still managed 8 assists and 6 goals this season I believe in 32 games, which is not bad in a first season but still low given his hefty fee.

Arteta has recently opened up about Pepe’s stuggle to adapt to the EPL. He also indicated that he will personally work with him to make him more aware of attacking and defensive positioning.

Arteta has helped Sterling and Sane flourish so I am sure that he can help our 24 yearld old Ivorian winger to become a potent force for us.

So for those doubting Pepe, I would say give it a rest and leave him alone 🙂

We must play him week in and week out to ensure that he is applying Arteta’s advice so that he can progress quickly.

I expected him to hit good form as of now but seems his adaptation is taking a bit longer than anticipated.

Nelson is a great option off the bench and his directness will come in handy as a sub to unblock some sticky situations.

If Pepe manages 10 assists in the EPL and 8 goals in his first season, it would not have been a stellar season but it would not have been a poor one either so I hope that he can manage to rack up 4 more assists and 4 more goals in the EPL and then I also hope that he can be our FA Cup Hero to ensure that all AFC fans support him when we start next year 🙂

Allez Pepe! COYG!

RC78


Leave Laca alone

March 9, 2020
Even Fabianski looks happy for Lacazette

When Alexandre Lacazette banged home our winner against West Ham on Saturday all Arsenal fans breathed a sigh of relief.

We hadn’t been playing particularly well but three points were essential if we were to hold out any hope of European football next year.

I wouldn’t have cared how we got the winner – a rebound off Mark Noble’s backside would have suited me just fine. But I was pleased that it was Laca who made the decisive intervention.

He has not exactly been a fan favourite this season and I have read numerous comments to the effect that we should “dump” him at the end of the season.

Oh, how fickle we fans can be.

I think it’s time to add a bit of perspective to the Lacazette debate.

Yes, he had a rotten run for a large part of this season and his goal drought was becoming positively Saharan. But if you look at Lacazette’s record across a longer period you see a consistent scorer who’s generally good for a goal every second game.

That’s doesn’t make him Thierry Henry, but it also doesn’t make him Lenny Henry. A goal every two games in an EPL season means you end up with 19 goals, which is a solid return, especially in a team where your strike partner is considered the principle scoring threat.

In his Lyon career Laca hit the back of the net 100 times in 203 appearances. In his first season in North London (2017/18) he managed 17 goals in 33 starts. The following season he bagged 19 in 36 starts.  

And hopefully, as the West Ham strike illustrates, he is starting to get back to scoring form just in time for the business end of the season.

Since breaking his drought in the 4-0 win over Newcastle (when he came on in the 85th minute and managed a somewhat lucky goal) he has played 243 minutes of footy and scored three times (at an average of one goal every 81 minutes).

It hasn’t all been great. That 243 minutes includes 109 goal-less minutes against Olympiacos on the night we were ousted from the Europa League. But there are signs that Laca is coming back to being the striker we know him to be, as the winner against West Ham indicates.

I don’t want to overstate the level of doubt people have had about him. I certainly don’t think the crowd has been giving him a hard time or anything of that sort. But I have detected a widespread sense that he’s not really up to it, which is just wrong.

In addition to his goal scoring abilities, Lacazette is a very hard worker, always closing down the opposition and defending from the front. Even in the midst of his miserable run in front of goal I never saw him hide for a second.

So let’s all be thankful that a top quality player looks as if he is on the way to regaining his confidence and touch.

When Laca is back, The Arsenal benefits.

RockyLives


Arsenal keep West Ham in their place.

March 8, 2020

So our Champions League hopes remain narrowly alive; as the saying goes, we have to take one game at a time and win them as they come along and that is exactly what we did, not pretty, but another important three points on the score board.

It took, what seemed to be an eternity, for VAR to realise that it is our god given right to beat the lesser teams of our shared capital. West Ham will always be in our shadows, a lesser team and a lesser club, their supporters spent most of the game vocalising where they thought best another, lesser, club stick their blue flag, funnily enough I found myself agreeing.

The team selection wasn’t that much of a surprise, although, Socratis keeping his place over Bellerin suggests that it is not just we the fans who can see that Hector is taking slightly longer than perhaps was expected to regain his former effectiveness; still, I am a big Bellerin fan and hope that he regains his former respect sooner rather than later.

We also had Mari making his debut for what must have been an injured Mustafi. You can never be sure which category a tall centre back is going to fall into; we all hope for another in the Big Tone mould but Stepanovs still haunts us. Mari started poorly giving the ball away and being caught out of position but it has to be said that he grew in confidence and became more effective as the game went on.

The first half was pretty dull with a near miss from Socratis who headed just over from a corner; a couple of good chances fell to West Ham who should have been ahead but hey ho. The second half started as usual with greater purpose; Arteta slowly increased the intensity with the inclusion of Nelson for Pepe and just before that Lacazette for Nketiah who added a lot more drive to our play before getting the all important winner.

Player Ratings

Leno: great save in the second half, clean sheet; all in all a very good day at the office. 9

Socratis: I suppose he was included to give Hector a bit more recovery time, he certainly helped aerially, didn’t do too much wrong and came close to scoring which would have been the second game on the trot. 7

Luiz: the thing to realise here is imagine he wasn’t an Arsenal player and we had to make do with Socratis and Mustafi at the back and you start to see why we should be grateful for his presence, well I am anyway. A superb performance today, so obviously an Arsenal player it makes me wonder how and why he ever played anywhere else. 8

Mari: got better as the game went on, gave us a lot more authority in the air and left me feeling quite good that he is on our books. 7

Saka: why does Saka play every game, is it because of other injuries, no it is not, it is because of his contract. The powers that be are making sure that he gets everything he wants as an enticement to stay and what he wants most of all is to play, and play he did. It is clearly not an accident that he has got the amount of assists that he has; he is the most potent threat from either wing by some considerable distance. 7

Xhaka: I want to scream at him, just give the ball to Saka but far too often he missed the opportunity; he didn’t play that badly, no silly mistakes and a game without a yellow, whatever next. 6

Ceballos: MOTM: the guy was everywhere, driving us forward and mopping up when it was inevitably needed. 9

Ozil: Mesut put in a decent shift without setting the place on fire. 7

Pepe: as I have said before there is an interesting little duel going on between Pepe and Nelson I have to admit I much prefer Nelson’s more direct approach. 6

Aubamayang: it’s like putting a racehorse in with a team of horses pulling a tractor – a complete waste. 6

Nketiah: didn’t get any service and unsurprisingly wasn’t able to flourish. 5

Not a game that will stay long in the memory but three valuable points should never be stiffed at.

LB


Let’s burst some bubbles: West Ham preview

March 7, 2020
Pop

Today we take on West Ham at the Emirates after a week and a half of ups and downs.

On the down side we crashed out of the Europa League with a home defeat to Olympiacos and our Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira suffered a fractured ankle in the FA Cup tie at Portsmouth.

On the up side, we qualified from that FA Cup tie and now face Sheffield United away for a place in the semi finals; our Invincibles’ record remained intact when Liverpool were thrashed by the mighty Watford and both ‘Pool and the Spuds got dumped out of the FA Cup.

The Hammers are in desperate need of points in the Premier League. They’re out of the bottom three only on goal difference and potential relegation beckons.

However, they did win their last league game (home versus Southampton) so their confidence may have risen a little. Prior to that they had a tough run of games which saw defeats to Liverpool (twice), Manchester City and Leicester, with a 3-3 draw with Brighton in the middle.

They have conceded more goals in the EPL (49) than anyone except the bottom two clubs, Villa and Norwich, so you would hope our attacking players can make hay with that leaky defence.

When it comes to goal scoring however they are only four behind us (they have 35, we have 39 having played one game less). The main threat in this regard is the French striker Sebastien Haller who has seven, but they can pose a goal threat from midfield with Noble, Snodgrass and Fornals.

I’m never sure what I think about the ‘Appy ‘Ammers. They’re certainly not in the Spuds/Chavs class of despicable London clubs who deserve to be beaten and humiliated at every opportunity. But they can be annoying and, frankly, have an overly high opinion of themselves because they used to have a few good players in the days of black-and-white television.

My next-door neighbour is a Hammer and has a dog called Bobby, after former England captain and West Ham legend Bobby Moore. When Bobby met my dog, Dennis (named after you-know-who) Bobby was sent packing. Some things are just immutably written in the laws of nature.

We’ll probably face one former Gunner in Lukas Fabianski, but we won’t be seeing another one-time N5 star whose career never achieved the heady heights we once imagined for him. Apparently the Hammers are trying to buy out Jack Wilshere from his £100k a week contract because he is hardly ever fit to play.

I feel sorry for Jack. He was the subject of some appalling tackles early in his career and was never given adequate protection by the officials. Mind you, there was something about his style of play which invited opponents to dive in on him. Usually he could hop out of the way just in time, leaving the opponent on their arse or otherwise out of the game. But when he got it wrong, he suffered.

Here’s the team I expect Mikel Arteta to choose today:

Leno

Bellerin – Mustafi – Luiz – Saka

Xhaka – Ceballos

Ozil

Pepe – Nketieh – Aubameyang

The only arguable “surprise” there is that I expect El Patron to persist with Eddie given his wonderfully taken goal on Monday night and given Lacazette’s continuing woes.

Bellerin was truly awful against Olympiacos and really needs to pick up. I back him to do so. I know many people have doubts about Pepe but he has been improving and I expect that upward track to continue. After Nelson’s performance against Portsmouth we have a ready-made replacement if Pepe needs to be hooked.

Ozil was another who had an indifferent game against the Greeks but who I expect to bounce back today. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re writing him up as Man of the Match after this one.

We have more than enough about us to take all three points and that’s what I expect us to do.

Come on you Gunners.

RockyLives


What would success this season look like to you?

March 6, 2020

As we are now only 3 months away from the end of the season and we are also 2 months into the Arteta regime, it is a good time to assess or re-assess our expectations for this season.

We started the season poorly and until the end of December, there was a disconnect between the team and the fans to add to the abysmal team performances and results.

Arteta arrived and injected some life and passion into the players and the fans responded. Some results were very positive and others were painful like the loss to Chelsea and Olympiakos but overall, the team is in a more upwards and positive trajectory.

With the Europa League out of our reach now and with the Top 4 seemingly out of our reach too, the FA Cup seems to have become a major priority.

What would it take for you to call the Arsenal season a success given our poor form in the first part of the season?

From my side – success would be:- a top 6 finish (ideally being ahead of the Spurs); – an FA Cup triumph;- Arteta already having the 2020-2021 first XI in his head, which would integrate some of our promising young players like Saka and Martinelli;-Convincing Auba to stay with us.

Over to you fellow blogger

RC78


Arsenal’s first 11 when EVERYONE is fit

March 5, 2020
It’s a miracle

Simple question: if all our players are available, which of them would you put in the starting line-up for an important game?

I know it’s a stretch of the imagination to think of all our lads miraculously leaving the sickbay… Kolasinac with his shoulder un-knackered; Calum Chamber’s cruciate suddenly whole again following a secret late night visit from Glen Hoddle’s old faith healer; Kieran Tierney raring to go… but let’s run with it anyway.

If I had been carrying out this exercise even six weeks ago my team would have looked different to the one I’m about to propose.

For a start, there would have been no place for Ozil (whose Arsenal career seemed to be drifting into insignificance) or Pepe (he was, if we’re totally honest, proving to be a little bit disappointing) or Ceballos (who was turning into the new Denis Suarez) or, heaven help us, Mustafi (no explanation needed).

So it’s something of a surprise to me that this is the team I would select to do battle if all were available:

Leno

Bellerin – Mustafi – Luiz – Tierney

Torreira – Ceballos

Ozil

Pepe – Aubameyang – Saka

Subs: Martinez, Chambers, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Willock, Martinelli, Lacazette.

Let me briefly explain my thinking. For a start, Mari and Soares were not even up for consideration because I’ve yet to see them play for Arsenal.

The selection of Luiz and Mustafi is based on how they have performed in the last four or five games. They seem to be forming a partnership in which each’s style of play complements the other’s.

Tierney has had a stop-start career at Arsenal so far but has shown enough to make me think the LB slot is his for years to come.

Dropping Xhaka to the bench is what I would do, but I really doubt Mikel Arteta would do the same if he had everyone fit to play. Like Unai Emery and Arsene Wenger he seems to see the Swiss as an essential fulcrum to our play.

Neverthless, I’m replacing him with Torreira and putting Dani Ceballos with him to provide the link-up play to our German midfield magician. In this scenario both Ceballos and Ozil are the beneficiaries of their recent rehabilitation.

I like Lacazette but his form has been too inconsistent this season, so it’s plank-warming for him and a run down the middle for Aubameyang.

With Saka and Pepe (who, at least to this viewer, is getting better with every outing) Auba will get lots of service, and all three have goals in them.

If I have a concern about my line-up it would be the lack of anyone up top to hold up the ball. It’s not really Aubameyang’s game. However, I see a combination of Ceballos and Ozil having a lot of control in central areas of the pitch and I don’t expect us to be playing too many long balls for Auba to contest for (apart from balls over the top for him to run in on goal).

That’s it.

Feel free to share your own line-ups in the comments.

RockyLives

  • This Post was written before the Olympiacos defeat and the Portsmouth victory. I was tempted to re-write it afterwards, but decided not to let one bad performance influence my overall thinking… even though I’m looking at the right back in my line-up and thinking… hmmmm…. not so sure now.