Exclusive Ray Parlour Interview: Reveals Key France Weakness; Advises England On Mbappe Threat; Arsenal Should Target Toney In January Not Ronaldo

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Arsenal legend Ray Parlour has opened up to Sportslens on the upcoming tactical battle ahead of England’s crunch World Cup quarter-final clash with France.

The former England winger comments on Jude Bellingham’s incredible ascent, Arsenal’s sudden need to cope with Gabriel Jesus’s three-month absence and other areas they should strengthen in January in a wide-ranging interview.

If you would like to use the quotes from this interview, please credit and link to https://sportslens.com/uk

Here are the key stories from the interview;

Full transcript

(Q): You were in Qatar recently, how was your experience out there?

(Ray Parlour): I was out there for the USA game which was pretty poor, probably the worst game I could’ve gone to. I think the USA should’ve beaten them really but they didn’t and we’re in the quarter-finals now so that’s the most important thing. It really wasn’t a great game and a few fans were getting a bit restless with it all, but we’ve gotta look forward now and hopefully carry on our good form that we’ve shown since.

(Q): Were you more impressed with Southgate’s tactics and team selection or England’s performance in their 3-0 win over Senegal?

(RP): Southgate made that big decision to pick Jordan Henderson in midfield didn’t he. He probably could’ve gone with a 4-3-2-1 formation when we’re a little bit more attack minded but he knows what Henderson brings to the team. It’s always a bonus when a player like that pops up with a goal as well so he’ll be delighted that he made that big decision.  

(Q): Should England switch up their formation against France and consider a back three/five?

(RP): No, I think it’s better off if going the same way [as they did against Senegal]. I know there’s been lots of talk that they might go to three at the back but I like the way they’ve been playing. I think it was a good performance all round and we know we’ve got quality players. It’s just about getting the balance right from the team’s point of view. 

I’m sure Southgate will be a bit worried about the likes of Dembele, Mbappe, Griezmann and Giroud who’s on fire and obviously it’s his last World Cup so he’ll want to go out with a bang. But we’ve got some great players as well going forward as well let’s not forget. Saka’s there scoring goals, Foden looks so dangerous and we know about Harry Kane’s goal threat. 

And look at our bench we can bring people like Rashford on, and don’t forget about Grealish and Maddison too. Southgate’s blessed with this squad. He’s got players who can change the game from the bench in the last 20 minutes.

(Q): How high is Jude Bellingham’s ceiling considering he’s just 19-year-old?

(RP): It’s amazing really. I remember when I first made it I was about 18 and getting in the first team you’re so nervous but if you look at the huge stages he’s played on at just 19 years old it’s amazing. He’s playing Champions League football on a regular basis, he’s playing for his country at a World Cup finals.

It just doesn’t seem to phase him at all and he’s playing with no fear. We all know he’s a very good player but England in the past have tended to freeze on the big occasion but so far he’s been one of our best players. 

Let’s hope he can continue. He’ll face a bigger test against France, we know that, but he’s done it before for Dortmund in big games so let’s hope he can do it again for England. At the moment I’m sure his agent and the club will be rubbing their hands together because every time he plays his price goes up by 10 or 20 million.

It will be interesting to see what happens going forward but I do see him coming back to the Premier League one day but where he goes and how much he goes for will be really interesting to see.

(Q): How much does playing alongside someone like Jordan Henderson help a youngster Bellingham?

(RP): Hugely. He’s got the experience and you can see him barking around the pitch. I liked it when he set his goal up and they celebrated together. I think Bellingham wrote on Twitter ‘Jordan’s a really big player in our midfield’ so he clearly looks up to him.

He’s had a good career captaining Liverpool and won big trophies with them. That’s probably why Gareth went with Jordan because of his experience and high energy and he gets players at it and I think we’ll see them partnered again against France.

(Q): Would you give Jordan Henderson a start against France or is there any reason to recall Mason Mount?

(RP): I can’t see Mason Mount coming back in. I don’t think he was great in the first couple of games to be honest. I don’t like to pick on people because we had a lot of poor performances against the USA and obviously no one likes to lose their place. But Gareth has got so many good players to pick from that someone’s going to miss out and I think it will be Mason Mount again. Jordan Henderson needs to stay in that side against France for me.

(Q): Should England be worried about being on the backfoot for the first 30 mins vs Senegal?

(RP): You’re always going to get spells in games where you’re up against it and things aren’t going too well but it’s about sticking together and not conceding at those vital stages. So credit to them really for not conceding during that period but they’ve got to start games a little bit quicker.

We know France will have a lot more quality going forward in the final third which could really hurt England if they start slowly. I’m sure Southgate will be looking back at that first 15,20 half an hour and saying we need to start better in the big games and manage them better too.

(Q): Where do you see England getting joy against France in an attacking sense?

(RP): England will certainly get opportunities, there’s no doubt about that. I think they look quite weak on the wings to be honest, the full-back areas for France aren’t their strongest. So whether it’s Foden or Rashford or Saka who gets the nod, I think they’ll really look to exploit those full-back areas and put some dangerous balls into the box for Harry Kane to get on the end of hopefully.

I’m sure Southgate will look at the wide areas because France seem a little bit unsettled there and I think Foden will be vital in this game as well for that reason if he can get at his fullback and pin him in. 

(Q): Do you see Southgate making any changes at the back for France?

(RP): That’s the big question. Does Gareth feel that France’s front four are going to be so dangerous that he needs to go to three at the back? Obviously we know about Mbappe’s pace and his finishing power. Kyle Walker is very experienced so to be honest I really hope he sticks with a four.

I know a lot of people think it’s better with a three so you can get your wingbacks forward but it’s worked pretty well like this so far… Maybe during the game you’ll have to change it at times if Mbappe or Greizmann is getting a lot of joy but I don’t link tinkering with defence setups too much.

You can change the system and put someone else in there but if it’s working as a back four.. And I’m coming from an Arsenal perspective where I played with the famous back five for many, many and if they were fit they played – simple as that. 

Maguire’s done nothing wrong. I think he’s been excellent and he’s built a decent partnership with John Stones. Shaw has done well at left-back and whoever plays right-back, whether it’s Trippier or Kyle Walker I’m sure they’ll put a shift in and do their job and obviously Jordan Pickford in goal. You can’t change your goalkeeper halfway through the tournament.

(Q): Do you think Kyle Walker is up to the task of marking Kylian Mbappe and is his fitness a concern?

(RP): We’re guessing in terms of his fitness but the physios and people behind the scenes will be using all the stats and metrics so they’ll know how well he’s recovering after the Senegal game. We don’t know if there’s been any niggles in training or anyone struggling with the conditions but Gareth has to make the decision with the info he gets and what he sees.

If Kyle Walker is fit he’s got to play really with his pace. He can fit into a three even if you want him to or if you want to go more attack minded you’ve got Trippier or even Trent Alexander-Arnold. 

Declan Rice will have a role to play out there too because Greizmann will drop off deep into little pockets and that will need blocking off. He could be vital too.

(Q): How impressed have you been with Bukayo Saka’s World Cup campaign so far?

(RP): He’s been great to see him shining after all the stick he got off the missed penalty at the Euros. He’s a really strong character. I’ve been lucky enough to chat to him a few times and go on tour with him. He’s a really grounded young man and as long as he keeps improving the sky’s the limit. I just hope he signs up for Arsenal very quickly, that’s what I’m more worried about.

We need to get him tied down, as well as Martinelli, Saliba and the other youngsters and hopefully that will happen soon. Saka is similar to Bellingham in some ways and he’s got the same work ethic too, so hopefully he’ll track back against France if he has to.

Gareth will probably have a few words and tell him to be wary and remind him that he might have to help double up on Mbappe at times. He’s played full-back before and he’s a versatile player so that will stand him in good stead. 

(Q): Who should Southgate look to on the bench if England are chasing the game against France?

(RP): You saw in the first game when they all came on and changed the game. Obviously Iran is a totally different kettle of fish to France but he’s certainly got really good options. Rashford is in great form and there’s an argument to say that he should be starting with what he did against Wales.

He’s in a great position Gareth really, which is what makes it so difficult to pick that starting XI, but he knows if someone like Rashford doesn’t start they can still have a real impact off the bench and that’s so important in the latter stages of a tournament like the World Cup where defenders are getting more fatigued.

We haven’t seen Maddison yet and he could still have a part to play in that midfield area so yeah Southgate is spoilt for choice. 

(Q): What do you make of Sven Goran Erikksen telling Southgate he should drop Bukayo Saka in favour of Marcus Rashford? ​​

(RP): It’s all about opinions and I can see the argument for Rashford because of his pace but Saka’s no slouch either and he’s done nothing wrong so far. So for me it’s a 50/50 call and he’ll be hoping he gets it right but whoever doesn’t start will still be a solid option to come off the bench. 

(Q): How important is it that Harry Kane is off the mark now in Qatar?

(RP): It’s important for sure because despite the fact he’s done a great job dropping off and being part of the buildup play, really he’s there to score goals for us. If you’d said to me after the first game we’d beaten Iran 6-2, I’d have said ‘how many did Harry Kane get?. Hat-trick or what?’.

But he didn’t score a goal that day and while that’s a positive because you can’t rely on one player to get all your goals, he really needed that goal against Senegal. Let’s hope he can go on a little run now and get a couple against France and maybe then he’ll be dreaming of that World Cup final. 

(Q): How will the aerial battle between Giroud etc vs Maguire and Stones play out?

(RP): I think that will suit both Maguire and Stones to be honest. Stones has got a bit more pace than Maguire but they’re both good in the air. Giroud’s not going to run in behind you so that could be perfect if they go in the air. It’s the late runners from midfield that England need to be wary of.

Them running past Giroud that could cause problems and you need good communication between fullbacks and central defenders too. Giroud’s had a great tournament and he’s got the goalscoring record for France now but Maguire will probably be looking forward to the battle because it’s pace that he fears and Giroud doesn’t have that threat. It’s Dembele and Mbappe that will bring that.

(Q): Gilberto Silva thinks Arsenal could sign Jude Bellingham, is that realistic?

(RP): I think we definitely need another midfielder but whether they’ll be willing to spend the sort of money Dortmund are going to be asking I don’t know. You’re going to be looking at £100m plus add ons now but certainly he’s a fantastic talent he really is but Liverpool will be in the market for him and Manchester City too.

There will be loads of offers but I just hope he comes back to the Premier League. I can see why Birminham retired his shirt now because they knew just how good he’s going to be. 

(Q): Is Eddie Nketiah good enough to replace Gabriel Jesus while he’s out injured?

(RP): I really like Eddie. I think he’s great to bring off the bench but he’s not a Jesus is he? That’s the problem you’re going to have. I know Jesus hasn’t scored for a while for Arsenal but he brings so much to the team in terms of his work rate and link up play.

He never gives up and his intense pressing makes it easier for the midfield behind him to win the ball back. Gabriel Martinelli could be an option through the middle as well with his energy.

(Q): How well will Arsenal cope with Gabriel Jesus’s 3 month layoff? Could it derail their title challenge?

(RP): I know Edu went to see the Arsenal owners last week and I’m sure he would’ve mentioned the situation and said we might need to bolster our attacking options at centre forward now. It’s such a shame because although he wasn’t banging goals in, he was creating so much.

I heard it was only three weeks initially but now it’s seemingly three months which is obviously a much bigger issue. In terms of a title challenge I think Thomas Partey is arguably more important to the team than Jesus. If he gets injured we might struggle without backup for that position.

I’m sure Mikel Arteta is delighted each time one of his players gets knocked out of the World Cup without getting injured! There’s still 24 games to go in the Premier League and the games are going to come thick and fast once it kicks off again so he’s going to need his squad as fit as can be. 

(Q): Should they sign a striker in January? If so, who?

(RP): The problem you’re going to have in January is who’s available? I’ve always said Ivan Toney of Brentford. I’d go and try to get him if I could. I don’t think you’ll get him in this window but he’s who I’d go for. I think he’s similar to Ian Wright the way he plays and scores his goals. I know Marcus Thuram at Borussia Mönchengladbach could be available because his contract is up at the end of the year. 

(Q): Should Arsenal do what Piers Morgan suggested and sign Ronaldo for 6 months to help them win the league?

(RP): I wasn’t in favour of bringing Ronaldo in, certainly not before Jesus got injured because he won’t want to be sitting on the bench again. I just don’t think he’ll work hard enough. I know he scores the goals but Ronaldo won’t bring the energy of Jesus by any means.

He still is a very good player but will he fit into Arsenal’s system the way they play now? I don’t see it. I’d be amazed if it happens but if it did then you’d have to just get behind it as an Arsenal fan and back the team. 

(Q): How much of a boost is it that Arsenal players have played significantly less WC minutes than Man City so far?

(RP): I’m sure Pep Guardiola will be delighted that Kevin De Bruyne is out now because he’s such a big player for Manchester City. There’s such a long way to go in the season but obviously it’s ideal for Arteta if his Arsenal players aren’t playing too many minutes. They’re going out to Dubai to play a couple of friendlies now and they’ve got a game against Juventus at the Emirates and it’s like a mini pre-season for players who didn’t go to Qatar.

I’m not too sure what the protocol is for players who get knocked out but the final is the 18th and Arsenal play West Ham on the 26th, so it’s a quick turnaround for players who get that far. It’s not ideal but it’s a weird season for everyone but you’ve just got to embrace it and get on with it. Arteta will be happy to have Partey back unscathed that’s for sure.

(Q): Have you been surprised by the lack of minutes Saliba has had for France?

(RP): Yeah it has surprised me and I was surprised Gabriel didn’t get a look in for Brazil as well because partnerships are so important and those two have been great for Arsenal. But it just shows you the depth that France have. The coach has gone with the experience of Varane alongside Konate so Saliba will have to bide his time.

Saliba has been excellent for Arsenal but Deschamp is trusting those he knows and has seen more of you’d imagine. But Arsenal need to get Saliba signed up because it looked at one point that he’d be off. 

(Q): Many rumours circulating Arsenal are in for Shakhtar Donetsk winger Mykhaylo Mudryk, do you think that’s what they need?

(RP): I haven’t seen a lot of him specifically but I do know Edu was looking for a winger when I spoke to him in preseason. He wanted a winger who could go past someone and offer something a bit different to what they’ve got now. Someone pacy like a Marc Overmars… that’s what I’d be looking to bring in. 

(Q): What did you think of Rodrygo and Fred seemingly refusing to pass to Gabriel Martinelli when Brazil lost to Cameroon?

(RP): I’d be amazed if that’s going on, I never came across that in my career. I’m sure if Martinelli gets in a good position they’ll give him that ball. I’d love to know the ins and outs of that and if it did happen that’s totally wrong.

I’m sure the manager would pick up on something like that and bring it up. I wonder what Martinelli thought about it? It looks like Brazil are enjoying themselves at the moment, the fans are happy and all think they’re going to win it. 

(Q): Will the news of Raheem Sterling’s house being burgled cause tension within the rest of the squad because they could be next?

(RP): It could be a bit of worry but with the money they earn they can afford to beef up their security. You can pay for a 24 hour security but obviously it’s a scary prospect and it happened to Aubameyang recently as well didn’t it? It could scar children for the rest of their lives if something like that happens when they’re at home.

It’s not ideal but if I was a player now I’d be doing everything I can and spending whatever is need to prevent it. I hope Raheem and his family are all ok now. 

(Q): Ben White flying home for personal reasons is a bit of a worry for Arsenal fans, what’s your take on that?

(RP): I don’t know the details but all I can say is when he has put the Arsenal shirt on he’s been brilliant at right back. He’s been so consistent in what isn’t really his ideal position but that just shows how much of a good professional he is and to be filling in when players have been injured too.

I just hope he’s OK and will be putting that shirt on against West Ham on Boxing Day and play at the same high level we’ve seen from him this season.

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