Premier League 'wake-up call': is English football in decline?

PERHAPS Arsene Wenger was trying to deflect attention away from the failings of his Arsenal team after they were knocked out of the Champions League last night, but the Gunners boss is not alone in thinking that the absence of any English teams from the quarter finals is "a massive wake-up call" for the Premier League.

For the first time since 1996 none of the last eight left fighting for Europe's biggest prize come from England, or indeed Britain.

Of the English contingent in this year's competition, the title holders Chelsea and Premier League champions Manchester City failed to make it beyond the group stages. Arsenal and Manchester United did progress but were given tough draws in the last 16 and were dumped out by Bayern Munich and Real Madrid.

It is a far cry from the heady days of 2009, when three of the four semi-finalists were from the Premier League. In 2008 it was the same, and the final that year was an all-English affair between Manchester United and Chelsea.

"It means that the rest of European football has caught up with us," said Wenger. "We have to take that into consideration when we talk about the Premier League in the future."

Goal.com believes he has a point. "The Premier League's influence on the tournament has dropped off, no side possesses the aura of, say, Barcelona, and the best players in the world, the creme de la creme, no longer ply their trade on English shores," it notes. "Even Pep Guardiola snubbed Britain."

But the decline should not come as a surprise. "Had it not been for Chelsea's unexpected heroics, it would have been the same last season," points out Matt Dickinson in The Times.

"The paradox is that the [English] league remains the great global success... The world still wants to watch the cosmopolitan frenzy that is Premier League football."

But that could be where the problem lies, argues AFP. "The change in fortunes has coincided with a marked shift in the English game towards more risky, attacking football," it reports.

The number of goals per game in the Premier League has risen from 2.48 to 2.85 since 2009. "[Manchester] United conceded only 22 goals en route to the English title in 2008," says AFP. "This season, they had let in as many by the second week in December. In the uncompromising arena of the Champions League, that defensive generosity has been ruthlessly exploited."

Germany, says AFP, is the country that is set to benefit most. There are two German quarter-finalists this year, but the Spanish have the biggest representation in the last eight, with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Malaga in the draw. Italy, France and Turkey supply the remaining clubs.

Eurosport's satirical Early Doors blog speculates that after last season's triumph English clubs are no longer concerned about Europe. "When a team as laughable as Chelsea can win the Champions League, you know this is no longer a game worth playing," it says, before implying that teams are so concerned with the economics of the Premier League that they have taken their eye off the ball in Europe.

However, Dickinson has no long-term concerns for the top Premier League clubs. "The English will be back soon enough," he says. "Even if Arsenal are not among them." · 

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