Former Arsenal star says Gunners must win next four Premier League games to pressure Manchester City
- Credit: Archant
Ray Parlour feels Arsenal must target maximum points from their next four games to put pressure on Manchester City ahead of their potential table-topping clash in December.
The Gunners are currently level on points with front-runners City, but lie second due to an inferior goal difference as they head into Saturday’s trip to West Brom.
Parlour, who won the double twice as an Arsenal player, has earmarked 12 points against the Baggies, Norwich, Sunderland and Aston Villa as providing the perfect platform for the Gunners’ meeting with City four days prior to Christmas.
“Arsenal have four games now that are all winnable,” said the former Gunners midfielder. “They’re teams who are likely to be around the bottom half of the table so Arsenal have got to try and get as many points as they can.
“There might be a few hiccups along the way, but I would really target those four games and get 12 points out of them. Hopefully they’ll have a few players back after that when they play Man City, which will be huge for both sides.”
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Arsenal were reliant on a late Kieran Gibbs equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw in their most recent outing against bitter rivals Tottenham, but Parlour believes it was a good point given the nature of the game.
Singling out Mesut Ozil for particular praise after he provided the assist for Gibbs’ goal, the 42-year-old believes Arsene Wenger’s side are now seeing the best of their record signing’s qualities.
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“It does take time to settle, and he’s now enjoying his football,” Parlour added. “Robert Pires was very similar. When he first came in, it took him time to get used to the English way, where there’s a bit more intensity in games.
“When you play the bottom team at Real Madrid, it’s normally a straightforward game whereas in England it isn’t like that as every game is difficult.
“Now he’s finding his feet he knows he’s a very important player, and he’s been superb. His work-rate has gone up another notch, playing alongside Alexis Sanchez, and his quality is there for all to see. He’s a very important player for the club now.”
While Ozil has impressed this campaign, others have spent plenty of time in the treatment room – with no fewer than nine first-teamers declared injured prior to the north London derby.
Parlour feels that, provided the Gunners can keep their best players fit, and are still challenging for the title come April, they have every chance of regaining the domestic crown for the first time since 2004.
“Other teams are going to get injuries, and you just have to deal with it sometimes,” he said. “You look at Manchester City and see how David Silva and Sergio Aguero have been out, and it’s up to the players who are fit to see it as an opportunity.
“Ultimately as a manager, you want your best players available and at the moment Aaron Ramsey, Theo Walcott and quite a few others are out injured. Arsene’s scratching his head thinking ‘when can I get them back all fit and ready to go again?’
“But they’ve got every chance of winning the league. I think Man City are the team to beat but United are getting results – they’ll be up there towards the end.
“And obviously no-one expected Chelsea to be where they are this season, so it leaves another space possibly for a top-four finish.
“The most important time is being in and around the top in April, with a chance to win the league. Christmas is always a difficult period but they’ve got to believe they can do it.
“Obviously the FA Cup wins have helped them develop a knack for winning trophies and this is the next step up now.
“I’m hoping the key players stay fit so they can be there or thereabouts towards the end of the season. Then you’ve got to show a bit of bottle as every point is so important.”
Arsenal still have an outside chance of reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League, but require two victories from their remaining group games.
That would have to include a two-goal winning margin over Olympiacos – who would qualify regardless should they avoid defeat against Bayern Munich in their next game.
Parlour insists that exiting Europe’s premier competition is not a foregone conclusion, predicting that Arsenal can win handsomely in Greece.
But the player who won three league titles, four FA Cups and a Cup Winners’ Cup during his 12 years at the club would prioritise the league over everything else.
“The league is such an important trophy to win,” he added. “It’s the most consistent team throughout the season.
“I was lucky to win it three times and it was tough, with ups and downs throughout the season. I’d say the league is more important this season than the Champions League.”