Premier League – Parker: Grit makes Gunners great

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EurosportFri, 15 Feb 15:10:00 2008

Manchester United legend Paul Parker believes Arsenal will take some stopping when they visit Old Trafford on Saturday.

2007-2008 Arsenal William Gallas Emmanuel Adebayor - 0



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“Arsenal versus Manchester United means so much to the two sides, and it also gives the neutrals something to get their teeth into on an otherwise lightweight weekend of FA Cup action.

It is not often you can say this, but at the moment Arsenal look the more mentally resilient of the two teams.

They ground out a result against Blackburn on Monday with the kind of performance that you didn’t used to get from them.

In the past, Rovers would get in their face and disrupt them, but this time Wenger’s players dug in and got a result without playing the scintillating football we know they can produce.

They are more focused and more disciplined this season – not picking up silly bookings or getting involved with the referee.

This stronger mentality is personified by the shift of the captaincy from Thierry Henry to William Gallas. Henry wasn’t really a leader and was maybe given the armband to keep him happy.

I don’t agree with just making your best player captain – that is something that should be confined to the playground and Sunday league games.

Gallas doesn’t do things for show. He gets on with the job in hand, is consistent and leads by example. While Henry was a magnificent player, he was an individual.

I said we would not know if Arsenal were serious contenders until after the African Cup of Nations as I thought they would miss Kolo Toure in particular. But they are now five points clear and favourites for the title.

Emmanuel Adebayor has been sensational. He is just about the first Arsenal striker since Alan Smith who can dominate in the air, and it is a toss-up between him and Didier Drogba as to who is the best goalscorer in the division.

I think it is too easy to say the occasion got to Manchester United when they lost the derby to City last weekend. The Munich commemoration should not have affected the players and I think for once Sir Alex got his tactics wrong.

They lacked a rudder in the game with neither Michael Carrick or Owen Hargreaves playing. They also had no real drive from the full-back positions.

Wayne Rooney‘s absence received a lot of attention, but I think Patrice Evra‘s suspension was just as important – John O’Shea just doesn’t offer the same attacking impetus down the left.

Manchester City were able to identify the players they needed to stop – Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez – and they did it. United just were not able to play.

They are lacking an extra dimension that they might have got by signing a striker in January. Louis Saha looks like a virtual write-off, so that leaves United with just Rooney and Tevez.

I think it is no bad thing that there are only six Premier League teams left – it is nice to see some of the smaller clubs get their moment in the sun.

Having big teams in the final is no guarantee of a good game – just look at the lack of goals in last year’s final between United and Chelsea.

Last weekend’s Chelsea-Liverpool stalemate showed that the top teams know each other so well they just cancel each other out. United-Arsenal is probably the exception to this as they are both committed to attack.

The Cup looks like Liverpool’s best chance of winning something as I don’t think their defence is strong enough to see off Inter Milan in the Champions League.

If Rafa Benitez ends the season trophyless I don’t think there is any doubt he will be sacked, and these days your job can be in danger even if you do pick up silverware – just as Fabio Capello, who was sacked by Real Madrid after winning La Liga.”

* Paul Parker was talking to Alex Chick / Eurosport

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