Arsenal, man and boy
It is widely expected that Pat Rice will finally retire from his long career at Arsenal when the season finishes next weekend. If that is the case then tomorrow will be Pat's last home game involved with the team. I am a bit surprised that Arsenal have not made a formal announcement ahead of the game in order that Pat can be lauded by those in attendance. Perhaps he has asked for no particular fanfare which would really be a mark of the man. If it is to be his last game then he deserves to be sent off in to his retirement in the proper way.
Pat Rice came through the Arsenal youth-team, having grown up round the corner from Highbury. He was an Arsenal supporter who progressed through the ranks to win the FA Cup as Arsenal Captain in 1979 and took the trophy from Prince Charles (in John Motson's words, he received the Cup from "a young man of around the same age, who grew up in a palace"). By his own admission he was never the most talented of footballers. His story was one of a trier, who did everything he could to make a career at Arsenal. It is probably testament to his determination that Peter Storey was shifted in to midfield in order for Rice to come in to the Arsenal team as a youthful right-back.
Aside from a four year sojourn at Watford right at the end of his career (he was there with Bertie Mee who was assisting Graham Taylor in his early days at Vicarage Road), the life of Pat Rice has been at Arsenal. Before long he was back at Arsenal and Don Howe, and then George Graham, put him in charge of the youth-team. Having been part of the original Arsenal Double team in 1971 Pat was equally successful in his early coaching career. His boys would win FA Youth Cups in 1988 and 1994, and his team would produce players like Kevin Campbell, David Hilllier, Ian Selley, Ray Parlour, Steve Morrow and Andrew Cole. It was quite a production line.
When Arsene Wenger arrived Pat was promoted to work with the first-team. This followed a brief spell as caretaker-manager (he is the only Arsenal Manager never to have suffered a defeat!) The rest, as they say, has been glorious Arsenal history. Pat Rice's association with the Club spans more than forty years, and he was part of every success from the Fairs Cup in 1970 to the FA Cup in 2005. Watch film of Anfield '89 (and even the Littlewoods Cup in 1987) and you will see Pat sat on the bench being a real cheerleader to the team. I remember the Cup Final and Cup Final Replay in 1993 when our end had maybe gone a little flat after being pegged back in both games. As George rallied the players before the extra-time began, Pat came towards the fans waving his arms in order to get us back up and singing the boys on. He did the same in Paris in 1995 after the 90 minutes were up. He was also the first to be out there consoling the players in defeat - even last year he was there to wrap a fatherly arm around Jack Wilshere after the Carling Cup Final.
Over the past couple of years Pat has come in for unwarranted stick. As things have not gone so well on the field so people have looked for scapegoats. Pat Rice has become one of those scapegoats. Personally I believe that a lot of Man Utd's success under Ferguson is due to the revolving door used by his coaching staff. Arsene Wenger might have freshened up the coaching line-up at Arsenal, but he has always stuck with Pat Rice, as his link to Arsenal's past. And what is his crime exactly - doing his job and being on the Arsenal bench, caring about the result every week?When things are not going so well it's Pat who comes to the touchline to rally the players. The nature of some of the criticism has been nasty, as it has with Arsene Wenger, and that leaves a nasty taste with me. We all criticise, and we all moan, but to abuse such an Arsenal man is completely unacceptable to me.
The dedication Pat Rice has shown to Arsenal in his life is testament to his love of the red and white shirt. He is up there with Tom Whittaker and Ken Friar in terms of a lifetime of service. Arsenal always tend to recognise their own, and I hope that Pat is given something special at the end of a long career. He will probably move in to the hospitality side at Arsenal from next season, but I want Arsenal to honour him with a testimonial match. He had one as a player, obviously, but he should be given the same honour as David O'Leary and Tony Adams, with a second one in recognition of a life spent with Arsenal. Whatever happens, I would like to wish Pat Rice all the best, and his version of the Legends Tour is one I might even pay to go on.
So the final home game of a long season is upon us. The team news is that Abou Diaby is replaced in the 18 by Ju Young Park, and Johann Djourou should be back for Sebastien Squillaci (we can hope anyway). Apart from that there will be little difference from last week.
The situation for Arsenal is simple - win two games and secure a place in the European Cup. The players are certainly capable of doing so, if they get their attitude right. It could actually be finished before the weekend is over. If we can beat Norwich, while Newcastle (as is likely against Man City) and Spurs (who have a tough game at a desperate for points Aston Villa) fail to win, we will have achieved the immediate objective. If someone had told you before we played Spurs that Arsenal would have a clear shot at third place, with two games to go, you would have bitten their arms off for it. What is frustrating is that we should have it wrapped up already. You can point at many games throughout the season, but the ones against QPR and Wigan when it was in our hands to get things over with early, stick out for me. The attitude of the players was bad in both of those matches, and a win in just one of them would have had us needing only to beat Norwich to secure our position. As it is things are far more tense than they ever needed to be.
Norwich looked like a side headed for the beach against Liverpool next week. They have been quite outstanding in their first season back in the Premier League. I just hope that Paul Lambert hasn't managed to get them our of the departure lounge in the week since Suarez destroyed them at home. Given Arsenal's record against the "lesser" teams this season, there is more than a little cause for concern for Gooners. It's time to step up to the plate, and score some goals.