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Ray Parlour has pinpointed Thomas Partey as the pivotal figure in Arsenal’s stunning start to the season.
Mikel Arteta’s men headed into the World Cup break five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League, having won 12 of their opening 14 outings.
It has been a scarcely believable run of results, with the likes of Gabriel Jesus, Martin Odegaard and William Saliba grabbing the headlines on a weekly basis.
However, it was a more unheralded star who Parlour opted to single out for praise in an exclusive chat with LiveScore.
The former Arsenal and England midfielder, 49, said: “One man who has really, really impressed me — and he was injured a lot last year — has been Thomas Partey.
“Granit Xhaka has had a fantastic campaign and I think that’s largely down to having Partey beside him.
“The work he gets through in the middle of the park and the extra balance he brings to the whole team has been so important.”
The Ghanaian, 29, has started 11 of Arsenal’s 14 league games and will be a key figure for his country during their World Cup campaign, which kicks off against Portugal on Thursday.
Gunners fans will be praying he returns from international duty unscathed and Parlour reckons his availability is likely to be key to his old club’s prospects after Christmas.
He added: “Going forward, the question is going to be whether they can keep him fit as much as possible between now and May.
“I could easily mention six or seven names but if I’m picking one, it’s Partey. He’s so efficient, he keeps things ticking over and has also scored a couple of really good goals this year.”
Affectionally dubbed the Romford Pele by the club’s supporters during a glittering 15-year spell in North London, few would be as jubilant as Parlour to see Arsenal win the Premier League.
Yet the ex-England international is not getting carried away with how the campaign could play out.
He said: “I’m not ever going to say Arsenal will win the league because someone will come and throw a custard pie in my face further down the line!
“For me, even though they are in a great position, Manchester City are still big favourites. The two teams still have to play each other twice, too.
“We also don’t know what kind of impact the World Cup is going to have.
“Some big names may come back injured or fatigued — if you’re being honest, this break came at a bad time for Arsenal because of the momentum they had built up.
“Even if they do end up finishing second or third, it’s still a fantastic season because the aim was to get back into the top four.”
One thing Parlour is in no doubt over is the fine job being done by Gunners boss Arteta.
Having faced scrutiny earlier in his tenure, the Spanish tactician is now hot property and is reaping the rewards of his early work according to the Gunners’ record Premier League appearance holder.
Parlour added: “Mikel had done all the hard bit already in terms of getting certain players out of the door and I think Edu and him have done a fantastic job on the recruitment front.
“Bringing in the likes of Oleksandr Zinchenko and Jesus, while Fabio Vieira looks like he’s going to be a great little player. You really can’t fault the recruitment.
“Where I think he has surprised people maybe is with the team spirit he’s managed to create. It’s so strong.
“I go to the Emirates a lot and you can tell the fans are really on board with what he’s trying to do.
“The players are buying into it, as shown by their work-rate off the ball and that is the kind of thing that gets the crowd going, improves the atmosphere and it all just has a snowball effect.
“It’s a great time to be an Arsenal fan, for sure.”
Ray Parlour has teamed up with VoucherCodes.co.uk‘s On Tap service, which is delivering FREE pints to people working during England’s opening World Cup match against Iran today.
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