Five of the Best David Rocastle goals for Arsenal

David Rocastle of Arsenal at Highbury

1. Tottenham, Littlewoods Cup - 4 March 1987

With the scores level at 2-2 after two matches, Arsenal took the short trip to White Hart Lane for a replay that would end in thrilling fashion and set up a final against Liverpool.

Clive Allen scored to give Spurs the lead and they looked favourites to go through, especially when Charlie Nicholas was carried off injured with half an hour still to play. However, Ian Allinson - who came on to replace Nicholas - was the unlikely scorer of the equaliser, with 12 minutes left, latching on to a long pass from Paul Davis and beating Ray Clemence at his near post.

Arsenal’s young team (five of the starting line-up were aged 20 or under) sensed their opportunity. With extra time moments away, they conjured up the winning goal.

David O’Leary launched a long ball towards his compatriot Niall Quinn, and the ball fell to that man Allinson again. His shot was deflected into the area and into Rocastle’s path. Rocky’s first touch was impeccable. He set himself up for a shot which - though not firmly struck - had enough on it to squeeze under Clemence and into the net.

After the match,George Graham said: ”When you have nothing to lose, you just push people forward, and sometimes it comes off. I would like to think this is just the start of a long period of success such as Liverpool have achieved.” 

2. Middlesbrough, First Division - 19 November 1988

Arsenal's title winning season of 1988/89 was arguably Rocastle's finest. He’d moved on from being a promising youngster to a vital member of the team, adding pace and flair to the midfield. Rocastle was an ever-present in the league. He contributed several fine goals, in a season where every strike was crucial. The third goal in a routine 3-0 home win over Middlesbrough showcased everything that was great about Rocastle.

Merson had already put the match beyond ‘Boro, with two close range finishes, when Rocastle picked the ball up wide on the right and 40 or 50 yards from goal. He beat three players before he even made it to the penalty area, then held off another three before firing a rising shot in off the post.  It was a magnificent individual goal, and put the gloss on an otherwise routine victory.

3. Liverpool, Littlewoods Cup - 2 November 1988

Arsenal made two trips to Anfield in the 1988/89 season, and while it's fair to say this result didn't have quite the impact of the next visit, here was evidence that Arsenal's young, talented team could go toe-to-toe with Liverpool on their own patch.

Such was their dominance in the 1980s, it was unusual for the away side to take the game to Liverpool at Anfield, but Arsenal controlled most of the match, and only had to come from behind because of a piece of typical John Barnes brilliance, against the run of play. Arsenal had created chance after chance in the first half, but couldn’t find the breakthrough.

As David Lacey put it in The Guardian’s match report the next day: "Arsenal must have been astonished to find themselves having to save the match rather than winning it with something to spare."

The move started with John Lukic throwing the ball overarm to his fullback - where have we seen that before? Though this time it was to Nigel Winterburn, rather than Lee Dixon, and he passed it inside to Tony Adams. The captain’s long pass found Alan Smith and his lay off was played first time to Rocastle, by Michael Thomas. Arsenal’s number seven, on the edge of the area but wide on the right, controlled instantly and hit a shot with stunning power - especially considering the lack of back-lift.

Despite this brilliant goal, and excellent performance, Arsenal eventually lost the tie. After a 0-0 draw at Highbury, Liverpool edged a second replay which was held at neutral Villa Park. But this Arsenal side had shown they had nothing to fear from Liverpool, and this would prove crucial at the end of the season.

4. Aston Villa, First Division - 31 December 1989

Arsenal hit a run of great form over the Christmas and New Year period in 1988/89. The games came thick and fast, and the visit to Villa Park on New Year’s Eve resulted in the third of six consecutive wins.

The win put Arsenal top of the league going into 1989 - albeit only on goal difference - but it was the manner of the victory, as much as the scoreline which added to the growing belief that the Gunners could seriously challenge Liverpool for the title. Bob Houston, writing in The Observer, praised: "an awesomely competent display in all areas," and said of the first half: " Arsenal dominated almost to the point of embarrassment."

Alan Smith put Arsenal 1-0 up early in the match, with a header from a Michael Thomas cross, and Smith’s great friend Rocastle doubled the lead with an audacious piece of skill. Brian Marwood’s hopeful cross from the left was punched clear by Nigel Spink, but only as far as Rocastle. Twenty-five yards out, Rocastle controlled the ball instantly and almost in the same movement hit a wonderfully controlled volley over Spink, and the back-tracking Derek Mountfield, and into the net. It was the smoothness and speed of the execution that was so impressive - from a player who was in perhaps the finest form of his career.

5. Manchester United, First Division - 19 October 1991

Some contemporary sources credit this goal to Peter Schmeichel, and, if it were scored today, it probably would go down as an own goal. But this is Rocky’s goal, and always will be.

It’s notable that four of the five goals in this list were scored away from Highbury. It's a testament to Rocastle’s appetite for the big game, that three of his finest moments came at White Hart Lane, Anfield and Old Trafford.

Arsenal’s title defence had got off to a bad start, but Ian Wright’s arrival had rejuvenated the team, and they travelled to Old Trafford in a confident mood, after winning their last four games - and scoring 16 goals while they were at it. Manchester United were on top of their game too, and still unbeaten. But it was Arsenal who took the lead.
Rocastle seized on a loose ball on the half-way line and drove at United, before producing a breath-taking turn to bamboozle both Paul Ince and Bryan Robson. Now twenty-five yards from goal, Rocastle spotted Schmeichel off his line and floated a beautiful chip into the goal via a combination of the crossbar and Schmeichel’s back.

Steve Bruce scored for United six minutes later and in the end Arsenal held on for a slightly fortunate point, but Rocastle had given the travelling fans something to savour, and another great moment for us all to remember him by.

See also:
Ten of the best Ian Wright goals for Arsenal
Will Bukayo Saka become a legendary Arsenal number seven?

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