Manchester Utd trip a real test for 'stronger' Arsenal, Ray Parlour says
Last Updated: 15/11/16 3:08pm
Arsenal 'Invincible' Ray Parlour says Saturday's trip to Manchester United will be a real examination of his old club's title credentials.
Old Trafford provided the backdrop for some of Parlour's biggest highs and lows as an Arsenal player, a 1-0 win in May 2002 securing a Premier League and FA Cup Double barely a year on from a humiliating 6-1 defeat.
In September 2003, the midfielder was £10,000 out of pocket for his part in the scenes that followed Ruud van Nistelrooy's last-minute penalty miss in a 0-0 draw - an escape that helped mould the Gunners' unbeaten Premier League season.
That 2004 title was their third and most recent under Arsene Wenger, but they travel north for Saturday lunchtime's Sky Live clash unbeaten since August and within two points of top spot, having brought in the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka in the summer.
The key signings for me were Mustafi and Xhaka. Those two down the spine have been very strong.
Parlour told Sky Sports News HQ: "I look at Arsenal now and think they're a lot stronger.
"People were always waiting for that big centre forward, but the key signings for me were Mustafi and Xhaka. Those two down the spine have been very strong, especially Mustafi who's come in next to Koscielny at the back.
"No disrespect to Per Mertesacker, who's getting that little bit older, but sometimes Arsenal have to sit off with him in the team. With Mustafi, you can push up that little bit higher and condense the space in midfield.
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"It's worked so far, but it's such a competitive league and this will be a big test. If they're going to win the title, they have to go to places like Old Trafford and try to get a result."
Meetings with United were "absolutely" the biggest for Parlour, who recalls the 6-1 loss in February 2001 as "an awful game to play in" and says "adrenalin" took them to the title in 2002, despite going to Manchester without Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires.
As for his memories of the Van Nistelrooy incident, when Martin Keown led a group of Arsenal players in taunting the Dutchman after a series of run-ins, Parlour said: "We were out of order, really. There's loads of things you do in football you regret, but we all got fined by the FA.
"I remember the letters coming in a couple of weeks later and we said to Martin Keown 'open yours up first, because you started it'. He got fined £20,000, I got done £10,000, Lauren £5,000 and Ashley Cole £5,000 - bit of a nightmare, really."