Hypothetical question: Which player from the past would most improve today’s squad?
Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams are the obvious choices but Ray Parlour should also be a serious consideration. Having made over 460 appearances for Arsenal which included an FA Cup-winning goal and a big contribution to the 1998 double success, stats alone might be enough to form an argument but in actual fact, the case for Parlour is based on more than that:
Skillset: Compared with the current squad, Ray’s qualities underline exactly what is lacking. Bite in the tackle, aggression, stamina and graft combined with attacking quality (that always translated into assists and goals) form a compelling argument for Parlour as our most missed man. A modern-day midfielder (ahead of his time) merging requisite battling qualities with a scoring ability that would go a long way to addressing two of our biggest problems, namely a soft underbelly and inefficiency in the final third.
Balance: An underrated commodity but Ray Parlour gave a number of successful teams the perfect balance. In 1998 as an example, he played a narrow, hard-working and disciplined right-sided role offsetting a more roaming and undisciplined Overmars. Such an equilibrium ensured possession was monopolized (through midfield battles fought and won) that ultimately fed a forward line consisting of Overmars, Bergkamp and Anelka who used such supply to devastating effect. A failing of recent Arsenal teams is the overuse of ‘free’ attacking players who struggle to recover possession and often leave our back four exposed.
Leadership: Leadership qualities such as hard work, aggression, discipline and consistency are all part of Ray’s makeup whilst his strength of character unquestionable, most encapsulated by his ability to battle on and perform even when the chips were down. Arsenal desperately need an inspirational captain especially one who is au fait with leading by example which would hopefully stop the away day capitulations and unwillingness to compete.
Adaptability: Too many of our current squad will only perform in one position in one system giving us single-point of failure, Ray had the attributes to perform at the highest level in both right and central midfield positions. He even held his own at right back a handful of times.
Loyalty: 460 appearances means an appreciation for the values of the club and an emotional attachment to its plight and supporters. In an era of disconnect between playing staff and fans, such attachment combined with English-loved qualities (including hard work and fight) would mend the club-fan dysfunctional relationship and again reestablish one Arsenal.
Some past players are immortalized based on ability or impressive array of medals (including Champions League and World Cup accomplishments) but in the context of today and what Arsenal are lacking including balance, fight, loyalty and leadership, Ray Parlour is the concoction of qualities and type of character you would want leading us into battle.