“Charging through the midfield, Thomas. It’s up for grabs now… THOMAS!!!!”
The commentary from Brian Moore is enough to raise the hairs on the back of any Arsenal fan’s neck. Those lucky enough to remember the clubs most dramatic moment in history, made unforgettable memories that day. It’s the epitome of sporting fandom, a moment frozen in history, something collective and pure.
On the last day of the 1988/89 season, Arsenal made a trip to Merseyside to face a formidable opponent in Liverpool. The gunners were three points behind their hosts in the table and needed to win by two goals to claim the title. Going into the final minute of the game they held a slender 1-0 lead, and the rest is history.
The stuff of legend. The Anfield silencer. A moment that will forever be woven into the Arsenal DNA. Michael Thomas’ goal gave the Arsenal community the ultimate nirvana that night, but it was just a moment in the man’s seven year long Arsenal career.
He may have 163 league appearances, and 24 league goals, but his career will likely be remembered by most for that fateful night at Anfield. A moment that set the club on an upward trend and help build what is in place today.
The Sports Gazette spoke with Michael Thomas and talked about the current Arsenal side and where the club can go from here.
Currently Arsenal are a side in turmoil, and have only won one out of their last seven in all competitions.
In their draw against Crystal Palace last month, the home crowd at the Emirates booed Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka as he walked off the pitch following a substitution. The captain then appeared to gesture to the fans before removing his shirt and walking straight down the tunnel.
“You would be gutted, you are wearing the shirt for your team, and trying your best, and for them to do that to you, I think it’s disgraceful. You are fighting for them to win a game. I really understand what Xhaka went through there. It was wrong, they’ve done it to [Emmanuel] Eboue and I thought it was wrong then. You want people to play for your team, and you can’t respect them.”
Thomas described a game in which his home Benfica fans had booed him off the pitch during his stint in Portugal.
“It’s not a good feeling when the whole crowd boos you, it’s not very nice but you’ve just got to get on with it. I know what he’s going through. In Portugal, when you are in the starting lineup, you bow to the supporters, I was never gonna bow to them. Why would I bow to people who are abusing me?”
Following the match, Xhaka revealed that the reaction was something that had been building for a while, as Arsenal fans abused him online via social media wishing horrible things upon him and his family, including cancer for his daughter.
“You’ve got to be easy on Xhaka, he should’ve come out with the abuse he got beforehand. It’s hard to come off and say sorry when most of the crowd are booing you. I wouldn’t be saying sorry probably at the time, I would be saying no, why am I saying sorry for someone abusing me? You’ve got to understand that, you wouldn’t accept that in your job. So don’t expect it in his job.”
Thomas also disagreed with the decision to strip Xhaka of the captaincy following the incident.
“It’s a tough one, he gave him the captaincy, but that’s another discussion. If you give someone the captaincy, don’t just strip him of it because it tells the crowd, go on keep booing.”
Since the incident, Xhaka has not featured for Arsenal, and there are rumors that the Swiss international may be on the way out the door in January.
On Unai Emery’s reign as manager, the former midfielder had this to say.
“I’m one of those people like, if you’ve got a manager, give him time. Let him get his players in, but at the moment I’ve given him time, and with the players he’s got in, I can’t see shape or what he’s trying to do. I can’t see any cohesion in the team. The same things that we’ve known Arsenal need from day one, from the Wenger days, are still blinding for me still. Defensively? A center half. Midfield? A holding midfielder who can control the play, put people in place, tell them where to go. That’s it really, we don’t need much more.”
Thomas also made sure to stress that Nicholas Pepe, Arsenal’s £73 million record signing from Lille, needs to be given time by the Arsenal faithful.
“Pepe, he needs time just like when Thierry [Henry] or Dennis [Bergkamp] came, you’ve got to give him until after Christmas, because it takes time to settle in, as a former player. He’s living in a hotel, and with the pace of the Premier League. It’s tough. When Thierry Henry was here, he got castigated that he was this, that he was crap. But he got settled in and everything clicked, and now he’s our greatest ever player. So you’ve got to give him time as a foreign player, you can’t expect everything to happen so quickly.”
The former Arsenal man thinks the current side have performed below expectation so far this season and thinks he can pinpoint the moment in Arsenal’s history when things started to slowly unravel.
“It switched when David Dein left. When he got ousted. That’s when it switched, because David Dein was Arsene Wenger’s right hand man, in transfers, he knew what Arsene needed, and he would go and get it. I think that’s when it all changed. It was like a sounding board, those two between each other. When that happened, when David left, the soul of Arsenal football left as well. Only David Dein would do a deal to get Sol Campbell from Tottenham. He was brave enough to go and get him, as a chairman. But I can’t see that deal happening again, he knew what we wanted. I don’t see anything happening at Arsenal for a while. It really is a shame, it’s a great club, it’s a massive club.”
The side has a winnable run of games coming up with Southampton, Norwich, Brighton and West Ham as their next four opponents in the league. They could certainly learn a thing or two from Thomas, who won the league twice with the gunners, including that memorable night at Anfield.