By Rob Stewart
Former Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour has hailed Gunners skipper Robin van Persie as one of the best three footballers in the world along with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The Dutchman has scored 37 goals this season for his Premier League club and that form has convinced Parlour that he deserves to be bracketed alongside Barcelona ace Messi and Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo - who were first and second in the 2011 FIFA Ballon D’Or.
“He is a wonderful player and as far as I am concerned he is right up there with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as one of the best players in the world,” Parlour told Goal.com.
“I wouldn't go as far to say that I think he is the very best footballer on the planet but Robin van Persie isn’t that far behind Messi and Ronaldo. He has been magnificent this season.
"He has been on fire. It is Robin who has put them into the position they are in because of the goals he has scored.
“Robin has had an amazing season. He has taken Arsenal to another level this season not only with his goals but with his leadership as well. He has had a terrific impact as skipper.
“I looked at the Tottenham game during the warm-up an he got the players around him, talking to them, and that confirmed to me that has been in a different class in terms of goal-scoring and in the art of captaincy.”Everton are 2/1 with Sportingbet to beat Arsenal in their Premier League clash at Goodison Park on Wednesday night.
Parlour is desperate for Van Persie to commit his long-term future to Arsenal this summer when Manchester City are expected to make a move for a player who will have just a year left on his Emirates contract at the end of the season.
“I would put a statue outside the Emirates right now alongside Herbery Chapman, Thierry Henry and Tony Adams’ statues and make him sign a new contract,” added Parlour
“He has been such an important player for Arsenal that I am hoping he can see something there and say 'Look, I want to stay and move forward with Arsenal'.
“Getting Robin to sign a new contract would be the biggest signing of the summer if he did put pen to paper - even if they do go out and strengthen their squad with top-quality players. It would be a major coup for the club and a real statement of intent from both parties.”
Parlour, who helped Arsenal win three Premier League titles in 12 trophy-laden years with the North London club, hopes that Van Persie will take a lead from compatriot Dennis Bergkamp.
“I had the privilege of playing with Dennis Bergkamp for many years and he never wanted to leave Arsenal,” Parlour continued.
“I know Dennis won trophies while he was at Highbury but he was one of those players who grew with the club and I would like to think that Robin Van Persie can do the same.
“I certainly hope that he stays put and commits his long-term future to the club. It will be a joint thing now between him and his family to decide what they think is for the best.
“And maybe he needs to sit down with Arsene Wenger to say ‘Look, where is this club going?' and 'what are the plans for the transfer window in the summer?' because more goals need to be scored from other areas of the field. And maybe say 'I will sign because I am really happy here' and I believe he is. His family are very settled.
“It will be a massive decision for Arsenal Football Club if he doesn’t sign a new contract during the summer. What do they do with him because could they gamble on him signing a new contract the following season when he could walk out as a free transfer?
"So there will be massive decisions all round – not just for the player but for the club as well.”
Arsenal, who visit Everton on Wednesday night, have had a turbulent season but Parlour is certain that Wenger’s team will maintain their coveted top-four spot which would pave the way for Champions League football next season.
“For me, Spurs, Chelsea and Arsenal will be fighting it out among themselves for third and fourth places,” the former England international said.
“Liverpool are probably too far behind them now and I don’t think that Newcastle will have quite enough to challenge this season although their progress has been remarkable.
“Arsenal will definitely be looking at third place now. It has been a topsy-turvy season. The players will have been really disappointed at the way they played in Milan because it was a really poor performance and then things went from bad to worse when they were knocked out of the FA Cup by Sunderland. But they have responded to those setbacks well.
“The Spurs win was massive and to beat them 5-2 after going two goals behind speaks volumes of the character and determination at the club. The pressure could not have been more intense with it being a North London derby but if you are going to bounce back then you could not choose a better occasion to do it.
“They might have been a bit lucky at Liverpool but it is all about getting the three points. That is what they did and then against AC Milan they showed tremendous pride and went in there and had a real go. They will have taken an awful lot out of that game, even though they were knocked out of the Champions League.
“If they had gone through the motions, it could have had very negative repercussions but the way it worked out it gave everyone a lift.
"They will have been a bit disappointed that they did not get that extra goal to take it into extra time but in the dressing room there will have been a resolve to make sure that they carry things on and maintain those standards.”
Parlour continued: “It is vital that they get back into the Champions League again next season and with the position they are in at the moment, they have got every chance.
Many pundits had written off Arsenal's chances of a top-four finish but Parlour insisted that he never lost faith.“I have been confident all season that they would get fourth place even when they had that poor patch and people were saying they would not do it," said the player who played more than 300 games for Arsenal after coming through the youth-team ranks.
"I knew that things would be in their control, which is the case now. They have to keep going and hopefully they will be playing Champions League football again next year.
“I thought Jack Wilshere would have been back in the side and that was a major factor in me being so confident. He hasn’t been in the team in ages and yet they have still managed to close in on a top-four spot.
"I always felt that Arsene Wenger would get the best out of his team and the fact that they are pretty experienced when it comes to getting into the Champions League will also work in their favour.
"But I think that it will go to the wire. Chelsea made a big decision to get rid of Villas-Boas and they will hope that the change does the trick and keeps them on track for the top-four.
“It will be interesting to see if Harry Redknapp can keep Tottenham going until the end of the season. That is the big question at the moment and everyone is wondering what the answer will be. But I definitely think that Arsenal will be in the Champions League next year."
As part of the Indesit Loves Football campaign Ray Parlour has been offering simple hints and tips to help people improve their game. Go to www.facebook.com - Indesit-We-work-you-play for more info