Earlier this week, the much-celebrated return of the Champions League turned somewhat sour for the Premier League. England’s elite clubs — Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal — all suffered defeats while Chelsea restored a semblance of pride by winning against Maccabi Tel Aviv as a loss as the champions of England would have taken the criticism a bit too far.
However, as things stand, English clubs fared worse than what was expected of them — to light up the continent after the silly money spent around during the transfer window. Arsenal’s loss looks particularly damning since they rested quite a few key first team players in view of the upcoming challenge against Chelsea in the league.
Combative midfielder Francis Coquelin was left out of the starting eleven, while Aaron Ramsey and Hector Bellerin were not even part of the travelling squad to Zagreb. While Arsene Wenger’s decision to rest some of his key players against an opponent ranked 64 places below Arsenal in the UEFA rankings is understandable, the loss has left him the need to answer a lot more questions.
Were the fringe players not good enough? Did the club not do enough during the summer to get themselves ready to compete on all fronts? There are more questions than answers for Wenger, and the loss to Dinamo Zagreb hopelessly exposed Arsenal’s lack of quality from the bench. While such a result can be written off as one-off, which it definitely is, you don’t see today’s Bayern Munich or Real Madrid suffering from similar unprecedented reverses.
Likewise, we can also view the defeat of Manchester United at PSV Eindhoven on Tuesday which left plenty of questions hanging for Red Devils manager Louis van Gaal. Captain Wayne Rooney, who was absent through hamstring injury, was heavily missed as United failed to impose themselves in the game. Was it not obvious that a single striker for a 50-game long season would be inadequate for a financial behemoth of a club like Manchester United?
Club legend Paul Scholes rightly condemned the issue of their lack of strikers post match when he said: “The one thing United’s squad is now is short of goals. Short of real, top quality centre-forwards who guarantee you goals.” Despite spending millions and millions of pounds in the summer, Manchester United are still short of options; a fact clearly highlighting the club’s general lack of direction in sporting matters.
Of course, things could improve massively and we could even see one of the English clubs in the final in Milan next May, but as it stands, the situation looks grim as ever. Suggestions are that Arsenal rested players for the trip to Zagreb with an eye on tomorrow’s Premier League clash against Chelsea. If a loss to Dinamo Zagreb is the price to pay to remain competitive domestically, then we should barely get our hopes up.
Similarly, imagine Marouane Fellaini plays as a stop-gap centre-forward for United which he has done previously and is precisely his role in the team these days, should Rooney suffer an injury setback ahead of a crucial knock-out stage fixture against an elite club. The same questions will be thrown back at Van Gaal and co., and the same lamentations will follow.
Premier League sides, despite all their riches, are ill-equipped for a challenge in Europe. League commitments take greater priority, understandable since one wouldn’t like to drop out of the Champions League given how their brands are enhanced a notch or two by simply participating in the competition. Squads are too thin, or the distribution of quality in the squads are uneven leading to great drops in performances whenever changes are effected.
Although these are early days to reach any definitive conclusion, the designs and looks of the elite English clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United and their greater emphasis on the league mean their European adventures this season could be classed as parts of unfinished businesses, as their prime focus is seemingly consolidating their positions in the Premier League.