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Are Arsenal and Chelsea further evidence of British decline in Europe?

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Both Arsenal and Chelsea face an uphill battle to make it into the Champions League quarter-finals after suffering first leg defeats in Italy. With Manchester City and Manchester United already eliminated what does this say about the English game? Is the Premier League falling behind the other top leagues in Europe?

Premier League teams have performed well in Europe’s elite competition over the last 10 years but we are now faced with the prospect of having no representatives in the last eight of the competition. You would have got long odds on that happening at the start of the campaign so what has gone wrong for our sides?

Transitional period

Arsenal and Chelsea are both without doubt going through a very difficult time and will no longer be feared by other European teams like they once were. In recent times Chelsea have always been a team that you felt had a realistic chance of winning the Champions League, this is no more. They have an aging side, with key players at the heart of the team coming to the end of their careers. While Terry, Lampard and Drogba are all quality players they cannot perform on a consistent basis like they use to. Replacing players of this calibre is not easy as Chelsea have found out. Rather than bring in new players slowly and gradually like Sir Alex Ferguson has done so effectively in the past, the Blues will have to make wholesale changes if they want to win the only major trophy that has eluded them anytime soon.

Arsenal on the other hand simply aren’t good enough and their problems stem from issues behind the scenes.  Arsenal need to spend money to catch up with teams in England and Europe.  You cannot sell your best players and replace them with cheaper alternatives and expect to be successful and that is what Arsenal have done. Players like Fabregas and Adebayor have left with the likes of Arteta and Gervinho coming in.  This has weakened the team and Arsenal fans have seen that with the performances and results this season. The fringe players at Arsenal are also some way of the standard needed for a team that wants be able to compete in both domestic and European competitions. A revamp of the squad is needed in the summer and it may be the perfect time for a new manager to come in and do this as Arsenal begin a new post Wenger era.

Underperformed

Chelsea’s and Arsenal’s problems won’t have come as a big shock to many football fans but the fact that both Manchester clubs failed to get out of their respective groups still seems odd. Manchester City found themselves in a very tough group and their lack of Champions League experience as a side saw them just fall short of qualification. Teams around Europe would have breathed a collected sigh of relief when Roberto Mancini’s men didn’t qualify because of the strength and depth they posses throughout their first team squad. The club will have learnt from their debut season and I have no doubt that next season they will be raring to go again and will certainly be capable of going all the way.

Manchester United made it all the way to the final last year where they were out classed by a special Barcelona side and many were expecting them to be in the mix again this year. They had the experience and squad to challenge but defensive slip ups in crucial home games cost with Benfica and Basel cost them. United have had issues at the back all season and it is largely due to the fact that they haven’t had a consistent back four. You would have still expected them to get out of their group but as Sir Alex Ferguson and his side have proved over the years you can never write them off. They will be back next year and will once again be contenders to go all the way.

They will Be Back

So while it looks likely that the Champions League will remain in Spain this season with Barcelona or Real Madrid the likely destination, I have no doubt that the English sides will be back. The EPL remains one of the most competitive leagues in the world with teams battling hard for the tile, Champions League places and to stay in the division. Both Manchester clubs will be ready to right this year’s wrongs next season and Spurs will be looking to establish themselves with the rest of Europe’s elite. The fourth spot is still up for grabs and whoever gets it will certainly be capable of making it to the knockout stages of the competition should the qualification draw be kind to them.

English clubs have underperformed this year and while that comes as a disappointment to us all, I would still not be surprised if one of them went all the way next year. Barcelona aside, I don’t think anyone stands out above our top teams and come the knock out stages nobody will want to draw one of our big guns should they make it through! It could well be worth a few quid having a punt on one of them now.

Please feel free to follow me on twitter @thomasflower.

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