Feb 15, 2012

English Clubs Just Aren't Very Good This Year

It's an off year for English football. Despite all the money and hype, amid all the allegations of racist abuse and "handshakegate"s and other drama, English teams have consistently come up short in international competitions.

Take Arsenal. Here is a team that sit fourth in the English Premier League, which is good enough to make the UEFA Champions League next year. Other than one embarrassing display at Old Trafford in late August, Gunners have looked fully capable of hanging with the best teams in England.

Today, against AC Milan in the first elimination round of this year's UCL tourney, Gunners looked more like a youth side taking on the senior club -- or if you prefer a U.S.-centric comparison, the JVs facing the varsity. Either way, it wasn't pretty. Arsene Wenger's men were outplayed, outhustled and overwhelmed by the rossoneri, going down 4-0 in a game that frankly didn't look that close. The teams really didn't look like they belonged on the same pitch at the same time. Milan's pace was far faster, their passing crisper, their marking tighter. They made better runs in attack. Their goalkeeping was better. This was Arsenal's worst-ever defeat in European competition and one that, barring a miracle in the return leg, will leave them with nothing but the FA Cup and fourth place in the Prem to play for.

And it's not just Arse, either. Neither Manchester club (currently 1-2 in the Premiership) made it out of the group stage of this year's Champions League. That's just embarrassing considering the payroll disparities between the Mancunians and their group stage opponents, particularly in Man U's case (Otelul Gulati and FC Basel? Really?).

Or take the Europa League. Tottenham Hotspur were drawn into a group with teams from Ireland, Russia and Greece (Greece!) and couldn't even finish second. This is a club, Spurs, that are supposed to have a realistic shot at winning the league in the first time in (what might as well be) centuries. Birmingham City and Fulham didn't make it out of their groups either. I know there's a big gap between those clubs and the ones at the top of the Premiership table, but come on. Interestingly enough, the team with the toughest Europa League draw, Stoke City, actually qualified for the elimination round.

All of which begs the question: is this just a one year anomaly we are looking at? Or is the sun finally setting on the Premiership empire? Time will tell, but the signs are ominous. Last year's Champions League finale showed us just how far the gap has widened between the best team from Spain and its English counterpart. This year's Champions League and Europa League group stages demonstrated that English clubs at the very least play down to the level of inferior opponents, if they can indeed be called that. Today we saw that the fourth-placed Premiership side were little more than target practice for the top team in Italy.

What is the cause of this? That is another topic for another day but suffice it to say that it can't be economic, given all the petro and oligarch cash that has flooded the Premiership in recent years. That would mean that the players are certainly still world class. What about the coaching? We can sing the praises of Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger and Harry Redknapp and others, and deservedly so, but maybe, just maybe their counterparts on the continent have overtaken them. Arsenal especially just seem to lack something this season that could suggest Wenger has lost his magic touch. Do English teams maybe have a handicap when it comes to fitness levels? Have they gotten sloppy with their defending? These things deserve a look. Stay tuned.


  1. Arsenal was helpless this week. Even Henry could not help (and now he should return to the USA).
    But MU and City were all right)

  2. yeah,arsenal will likely be worse off, I hope they return to good standing

  3. Just Chelsea have chance to win the Champions League