Thursday, 31 March saw the 21st anniversary of the passing of one the Arsenal’s favourite sons, David Rocastle. It seems incomprehensible to me now that so much time has passed, so fresh is my memory of reading this awful news for the first time.

Michael Thomas and David Rocastle
Michael Thomas and David Rocastle

And still, the love that Rocky inspired in us all burns brightly, so bright that thinking about it too much is to risk collapsing in a puddle in front of my laptop.

I didn’t get to see him play very often, but to me, he was our equivalent of Superman, but bedecked in red and white, not blue.

What a footballer, what a man. Hero.

david rocastleArsenal are, at the time of writing, just a few days away from a reunion with another of our footballing supermen.

Monday night sees us making the short journey to Crystal Palace (it’d be even shorter for me if I had a ticket, living as I do in Beckenham) and a crucial match with a Crystal Palace side being led by our former captain, Patrick Vieira.

I’m not sure you need me to tell you how much I loved Patrick, but for me, it was him (okay, maybe him and Dennis) who provided the engine of Arsène’s early success and therefore the revolution that followed into the new millennium.

Let me put it this way, without Patrick, it’s possible none of it happens, any of it.


Arsenal's Invincibles LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: Arsenal's Patrick Vieira (L) and Thierry Henry celebrate after winning the Premiership title and defeating Leicsester City 15 May, 2004 at Highbury in London. Arsenal defeated Leicester City 2-1 and finish the season undefeated. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)
Arsenal’s Invincibles LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM: Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira (L) and Thierry Henry celebrate after winning the Premiership title and defeating Leicsester City 15 May, 2004 at Highbury in London. Arsenal defeated Leicester City 2-1 and finish the season undefeated. AFP PHOTO/JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Which is, of course, why he received such a rapturous welcome when he occupied the opposition bench earlier this season.

Perhaps some eyes were being cast, enviously, in the direction of said bench (well, mine definitely were) as Mikel Arteta was still working through early season tribulations.

The Palace performance that night was quite an impressive, muscular one, although they still needed us to gift them two goals and were, of course, so lucky not to lose James McArthur for that horrible foul on Bukayo Saka.

In the end though, we were grateful for Alex Lacazette’s 95th minute equaliser which prevented a 4th loss in eight Premier League games.

I think losing to Vieira’s Palace, at home, might have been a bit much for a fanbase still reeling from last season’s disasterclass against a Villarreal side managed by Unai Emery.

Maybe not, but luckily we don’t have to think about it now.

Fortunes have changed somewhat now.

Arsenal have 10 Premier League games left to play and if we win eight of them, we will make a return to Champions League football that nobody – literally nobody – predicted at the beginning of the season.

It’s quite likely we won’t even need to win eight, we are close, but perhaps not quite close enough to dream just yet.

I’m not counting any chickens though, Vieira has made strides of his own at Palace.

He inherited a dour but tough to play against side from Roy Hodgson, and now he has them, led by Conor Gallagher and Michael Olise, playing football, too.

A team in his own image, you say? Maybe.

The fans there love him and you can understand why – so I’m expecting another tough Monday night battle, but I do think we’ll just have a little too much for our hosts.

It is a massive credit to Mikel Arteta, who has made some really tough, outright unpopular decisions in his 28 months at Arsenal that, on Monday, the focus – for most Arsenal fans anyway – will be on the opportunity ahead of us, rather than Patrick Vieira.

To pick up on what Gary Neville had to say about Arteta doing as much as he can here, I wonder what Neville has seen in Arsenal this season, particularly recently, to make him think that?

The progress this season has been startling, apparently so startling that some are still regarding it as a bit of a confidence trick and unwilling to believe the evidence of their own eyes (hello, if you’re reading, uncle Stevie!).

If we can make this much progress in a few short months, what might be possible next time around?

The job is not finished yet, but the signs are so encouraging. Who wouldn’t want to work with the likes of Saka, Smith Rowe, Martinelli and Granit Xhaka with another season of development under their belts?

Arteta turned 40 last week and did so with the sound of “We’ve got Mik Arteta” ringing in his ears. The man who stabilised the football team a decade ago has now begun transforming the football club.

You’ve guessed it – hero.

One of Arteta’s unpopular decisions was, of course, to ostracise (not a hero) Mesut Özil from the football club.

More than a few people had a bit of a problem with that – again, disregarding the evidence of their own eyes.

I can imagine Arteta had a sly smile to himself this week when news came of Özil’s banishment from Fenerbache. There were also these comments from his former Arsenal teammate, and all round good guy, Nacho Monreal.

I mean, “Özil’s problem is that he had problems with everyone”, is just a politer version of the Raylan Givens quote, “if you run into an a**hole in the morning, they’re the a**hole, if you run into a**holes all day, you’re the a**hole”.

This is from Nacho Monreal, who never had a problem with anyone, ever!

Mesut was clearly a talented footballer. He was also – equally clearly – more trouble than he was worth, proving George Graham’s maxim that you should never sign a footballer who thinks he’s taking a step down to sign for you.

If you think about it, Arsenal’s transfer policy last summer was a tacit approval of this policy.

Well done to Arteta and Edu for realising this was the way to go about it.