Ray Parlour has praised Mikel Arteta for removing the ‘deadwood’ from the Arsenal dressing room, believing the club has a realistic chance of finishing in the top four this season.
Arsenal’s season got off to the worst possible start with three straight defeats at the hands of Brentford, Chelsea, and Manchester City, but the north London giants have since bounced back to cement their place in the Champions League next season.
The Gunners’ recent 4-1 win over Leeds was their third in a row in the English Premier League, and Arteta’s side will look to close the gap on third-placed Manchester United with a win at struggling Norwich on Boxing Day.
‘It’s been a rollercoaster ride, lots of changes since he’s been at the club,’ ex-Arsenal midfielder Parlour said of Arteta’s first two years at the Emirates.
‘He had those issues with the players he wanted out, [Mesut] Ozil, [Shkodran] Mustafi, and there was a lot of deadwood and people causing a lot of problems behind the scenes in the dressing room, which didn’t make it a stable ship, so he did really well to get those guys out.
‘He’s gradually bringing in a few players.’ [Takehiro] At right-back, Tomiyasu has been a fantastic signing; he’s given the young players a chance to shine, and he’s made a lot of changes.
‘They have put money into him, and they have backed him.’ I don’t think he can complain about not having enough money because he went out and bought Ben White for £50 million, so he’s already spent a lot of money.’
Arsenal have finally turned a corner under Arteta, according to Parlour, and the Spaniard’s bold decisions, such as removing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as captain, are beginning to pay off.
‘I believe he now has access to the dressing room.’ I know what happened to Aubameyang was big news, and he’s a big figurehead in that dressing room,’ he added.
‘However, since Aubameyang hasn’t been in the side, I’ve noticed a good spirit, which can be a problem if you leave out an influential player like Aubameyang.’
‘I’m sure everyone likes and gets along with Aubameyang, but he didn’t have a choice and had to assert his authority.’ He’s got a young, very young team on his hands.
‘You can’t have youngsters in the dressing room looking at Aubameyang and thinking, “He got away with it, maybe I can do the same.”
‘He got rid of the deadwood, and he got rid of the people he wanted to get rid of.’ Now, if you look at the team as a whole, the back four is 24, 23, and 22. Ramsdale has had a huge impact, and while the result against Everton was disappointing, the rest of the season has been pretty good.
‘You take a look at the middle of the field. Only Xhaka and Lacazette are in their late twenties and thirties; the rest are in their prime years, so if they continue to develop as a unit, they may have a chance. But there are a lot of ifs and buts.’
If Arteta can guide Arsenal to a fourth-place finish this season, it will be a ‘unbelievable’ achievement, according to Parlour.
‘Every manager understands that this is a results-oriented industry. People will demand his head again if Arsenal loses five games in a row and finishes 10th in the table,’ he continued.
‘All he has to do now is keep this going.’ I understand that Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur have games in hand on Arsenal, but it would be an incredible season if Arsenal could finish fourth.
‘They’re currently seated in that location.’ We’re only halfway through the season, so there’s still a long way to go, but I’ve noticed a difference in the players, and I believe there’s now a connection between the fans and the players.