Why Arsenal's exit does not signal the decline of the Premier League

UEFA Champions League Trophy

Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League on Tuesday, joining Chelsea and Liverpool, but it does not constitute a decline in the Premier League.

Despite scoring twice at the Stade Louis II, Arsenal ultimately dropped out of the Champions League to AS Monaco. They become the second side from the Premier League to be eliminated at this stage and could be joined by Manchester City on Wednesday night as they try to overturn a 2-1 first leg defeat to Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

The current situation has been described by the British press as a disaster and an indication of the decline being suffered by English football, but the truth is that there is no real decline, more just an unfortunate run of results in a very difficult cup competition.

Before the second-leg against Barcelona, Manuel Pellegrini spoke to Sid Lowe in The Guardian, and the Manchester City coach had some interesting comments on how the Champions League should be viewed.

“The Champions League is very important but it can’t be trastornante, it can’t distort everything. One bad game, one mistake, and you’re out. In Manchester United’s great era under Ferguson they only won two Champions Leagues, Real Madrid went 32 years without the European Cup … and they’re still Real Madrid. It’s important to reach the later rounds but you can’t think that not being there is a disaster, although with this squad you can’t get knocked out in the group.”

For any elite club, the minimum requirement has to be getting through the group stage. With the mini-league format, you have six games. Two of which will be against a high-level club, but the other two should be against teams lower down the rankings, with two of those games at home.

Qualifying in first or second should be the standard Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City are aiming for. This was Liverpool’s first season back in the competition, with a squad full of players that don’t have experience at that level, but they will still be disappointed to go out in the manner in which they did.

However, after losing their best player in the summer, it is far from a disaster.

As Pellegrini explains, once you are out of the group stage, you are at the mercy of the draw:

“City went from not getting out the group to two years running getting through a group with Bayern and then being unlucky enough to get Barcelona. We can’t let that misfortune change our vision. And if we won it, it wouldn’t be ‘job done’. We’ve constructed the [Etihad] campus, [the owners] want to develop all areas, to aspire every season. And we don’t want to win the Champions League any way possible, booting the ball up the pitch, cheating …”

You can win all six games in the group stage and look unstoppable, but if one of the other groups features two great European clubs, say Barcelona and Bayern Munich, or Real Madrid and Juventus, you are going to face a club able to win the Champions League even though you have waltzed through the group stage.

It is far too simplistic to expect a team to go deeper and deeper into a competition every year, only eight teams can reach the quarter-finals, meaning not everyone is going to hit that mark.

Regardless of what stage of the competition they meet, Man City are not going to be favourites to beat Barcelona, while Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain will continue to be a close battle.

Elimination in the last 16, quarter-finals or semi-finals is still elimination. You can’t judge progress on when you are knocked out, without looking at what teams they have played.

Laurent Blanc was under great pressure to reach the quarter-finals this season. However, last season they beat Bayer Leverkusen before Chelsea knocked them out on away goals. This season losing to the same team, a stage before would not have been a drop in progress.

Chelsea won on away goals last season, they were expected to go further this season, but this time away goals has seen them go out.

Football is a game of very small margins. One poorly marked corner has led to Chelsea’s 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge. They may have played poorly, Mourinho may have made some poor decisions, but losing a goal to a late corner does not constitute a decline in English football.

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