Former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour fears that winning the Premier League will be harder than ever for Arsene Wenger next season.
Wenger’s former foot soldier, who won five major trophies playing for the Frenchman, argues that while his Arsenal team only had to contend with Manchester United as realistic title challengers, the current crop have to fight off threats from new powers such as Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
Leicester City emerged as an unlikely Premier League force last season, while the arrival of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte at City, United and Chelsea will provide new threats for Arsenal to grapple with in what could be Wenger's last season in north London.
“It’s a big season for Wenger next year,” Parlour told City A.M.
“He’d love to win it one more time. If he won it next year he’d probably leave the club.
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“Maybe there will be another opportunity. But you’ve got six managers who all want to win the league and it’s difficult. It’s very competitive.
“Winning the league now is a lot harder than when we won it. Tottenham, City and Liverpool are all better. All these teams have really improved so it’s really difficult.
“Back in our day it was only Arsenal and Manchester United who could win the league. Now it’s a little bit more different. There’s a lot more teams in the reckoning to win the league.”
Premier League title races in the late 1990s and early 2000s were defined by the meetings between Arsenal and United, often full-blooded affairs with as many wince-inducing tackles as moments of skill.
The arrival of a long-time Wenger rival, Jose Mourinho, in the Old Trafford dugout could see fireworks return to the fixture — although Parlour doesn’t see it rekindling the same level of importance despite the enmity between the two coaches.
“Wenger and Mourinho won’t worry about each other,” he says. “That game won’t decide the title. It was different in our day because Arsenal and Manchester United were always first and second.
“Across the board there’s competition and rivalry from all angles. Arsenal and Tottenham is a much bigger game now, it’s very important. In my day it wasn’t our biggest game.
“And so managers don’t worry about picking out other managers and saying ‘We’ve got to beat him’.”
Arsenal have not won the Premier League since Parlour left the club, last lifting the trophy in his final season in 2004, when he was part of the historic Invincibles side that went a full league campaign unbeaten.
As the the wait has gone on, Arsenal fans’ patience has withered to the point that some fans called for a change of manager last season.
But for former fans’ favourite Parlour, the problem is much with a lack of leadership in the playing squad — an issue that Wenger has seemingly tried to address with the acquisition of tough-tackling Granit Xhaka and a bid for spiky striker Jamie Vardy.
“You’ve got to look at the players as well,” Parlour insists.
“The manager will get you prepared. But we had those characters on the pitch as well. Sometimes during games [last season] I didn’t see enough people pulling others around.
“But they’re a very talented squad and Wenger knows that. One or two more players and they might have a chance.”
The Romford Pele: it's Only Ray Parlour's Autobiography is available now, £16.99