England not to blame for duo's Euro exits

Both Arsenal and Manchester City have exited the Champions League but blame cannot be placed on the English game as a whole, says Mark Holmes.

Last Updated: 15/03/14 at 20:46 Post Comment

Arsenal: Well beaten by Bayern Munich

Arsenal: Well beaten by Bayern Munich

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It has been a bad week for England's clubs in Europe, with Arsenal and Manchester City knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively, and Tottenham well beaten in the home leg of their Europa League last-16 tie against Benfica.

Manchester United, meanwhile, will have to overturn a two-goal deficit against Olympiakos next week if they are to make the Champions League quarter-finals. It could well leave Chelsea, who drew 1-1 with Galatasaray in their first leg, as the Premier League's sole representative in the latter stages of this season's two European competitions.

It is becoming a familiar story. Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, of course, but not since 2008-09 have all four English clubs made it to the quarter-finals. Not one of them managed it last season.

On the face of it, it is difficult to understand why. The Premier League is widely considered the most competitive of the major European leagues - there are still four teams in with a realistic chance of winning this season's title - and the revenue the top clubs receive from the TV deal allows them to compete, financially at least, for the world's best players.

There were even suggestions earlier this season that Manchester City now possess the strongest squad in Europe yet few gave them a chance when they were paired with Barcelona.

Arsenal, meanwhile, have spent comfortably more than Bayern Munich in recent seasons yet they too were widely written off before a ball was kicked in their tie against Pep Guardiola's side.

Both prophesies were fulfilled. Both City and Arsenal suffered from having a men sent off in the crucial home legs but, in truth, barring brief periods, both English sides looked second best across the two ties.

Even in the closer-fought second legs it was hard to shake the feeling that either Barca or Bayern could have moved up a gear were their progress to the quarter-finals ever threatened. The defensive, almost defeatist, attitude of both City and Arsenal, however, meant there was never much danger.

Premier League to blame?

It has been suggested that the Premier League's greatest strength, its competitiveness, is also its biggest weakness in that it forces the top clubs into playing their best players more often than it does top clubs in Spain and Germany, where a number of games throughout a season are effectively walkovers.

Many also believe that English clubs are asked to play too many games. Even Bayern's Thomas Muller recently said "it's very hard to be a professional footballer in England."

There is definitely legs in the argument that says the Premier League should do more to help its clubs in Europe, moving fixtures to allow maximum recovery time between games, and also that a mid-season break would be hugely benefical, but those that believe there are simply too many games in England may be surprised to learn that the clash between Barca and City at the Nou Camp was the 45th competitive game of the season for both teams.

Including the two Spanish Cup games, the Catalans have played 10 domestic cup games this season, one more than City.

Furthermore, while Barca may undoubtedly benefit at times from some easier domestic games, the players that started on Wednesday night have actually started 19 more games between them in La Liga this season than the XI that started for City have in the Premier League

It has admittedly been easier for Bayern, who have played five games less than Arsenal this season and whose 10 outfielders on Tuesday had accumulatively made 27 less league starts than their counterparts, but Barca have proven that it is possible for a team to play at their best in numerous competitions.

English football to blame?

Those looking for excuses might therefore attempt to blame the failings of the Premier League clubs in Europe on a wider problem with English football but Pellegrini is an Chilean that has managed in Spain, and of the XI that started the home leg against Barca, only the goalkeeper, Joe Hart, was English.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are managed by a Frenchman in Arsene Wenger, and started with only three Englishmen in the first leg and just one in the away leg. That one, incidentally, was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the Gunners' best player on the night.

Serge Gnabry, incidentally, became the fourth German to turn out for the Gunners across the two games when he was introduced as a substitute at the Allianz Arena.

English players might not be up to the standard of their continental counterparts, but neither Arsenal nor City's defeats could realistically be blamed on that.

That is not to say, however, that the problems in the English game have not affected our top clubs.

Talking about Jack Wilshere in 2011, then-Barca coach Pep Guardiola said: "He is good but nothing special. We have hundreds of him in Spain."

While Barca have the pick of a huge pool of talented young Spaniards, only a handful of young English players make the grade. And there are at least five clubs big enough and rich enough to compete for these few potential superstars. And, according to Guardiola, even the ones that do break through are "nothing special".

Furthermore, even for the likes of City and Chelsea, that can afford to spend whatever it takes to sign ready-made stars, there is clearly a problem in attracting the world's best to the Premier League.

Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic were the last English-based players to be named in the Fifpro World XI back in 2011, and last summer saw yet another world-class player in Gareth Bale depart for foreign shores. There are only a handful of players at best remaining in the Premier League that either Barca, Bayern or Real Madrid would want.

Perhaps, then, the main reason for the English clubs' failings in Europe is simply that they not as good as the aforementioned big three.

Rather than beginning another messy post-mortem, perhaps, just like we have done with the national side, we simply need to reassess our expectations of our top clubs in Europe.

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