City, Arsenal failures undermine EPL boasts
The Premier League can attract mega riches from global broadcasters but first Manchester City and now Arsenal have proved to be poor ambassadors for the self-proclaimed best league in the world in the Champions League this week.
Richard Scudamore, the league's chief executive, complained the loudest when plans for a winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022 were announced on Tuesday claiming the 'integrity' of his competition would be harmed by a mid-season break.
But City and Arsenal jointly combined to undermine his claims of grandeur with damaging defeats in the first legs of the knockout stage of the competition.
After Manchester City capitulated for the second successive season to Barcelona by losing 2-1 at home on Tuesday, Arsenal were exposed as "naive", according to manager Arsene Wenger, against a superbly-organised, but far from spectacular AS Monaco who won 3-1 in north London.
Both could yet turn their ties around but on the evidence of their first leg performances, that is highly unlikely.
No team in Uefa's elite competition has overturned a two-goal first leg home defeat and progressed since Ajax Amsterdam did that against Benfica after winning a play-off in 1969.
Chelsea, the last English team to win the Champions League in 2012, have the best chance of progressing to the quarter-finals after securing a 1-1 draw at Paris St Germain with the second leg at Stamford Bridge to be played on March 11.
Everton, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur all made it into the last 32 of the Europa League, which will be completed later on Thursday, and none are likely to be demolished in quite the same way that Arsenal were on Wednesday.
Their defeat not only raised questions about the true merits of the Premier League's top level but also re-ignited the debate about the future of manager Wenger, who seemed at a loss to explain one of the worst performances by an Arsenal team at home in Europe in his nearly 19 years as boss.
Frank McLintock, who captained Arsenal to their first FA Cup and League Double in 1971, had plenty of ideas as he told Talksport Radio on Thursday.
He questioned whether Germany midfielder Mesut Ozil, who had a poor match, was suited to the English game, he was critical of their commitment and questioned the mental toughness which Wenger continually praises his team for.
Before Wednesday, Arsenal had won eight of their last nine matches, but McLintock tried to put that into perspective.
"When we play against somebody who is at least as good as us or above us in the League, that's very often when we crumble and that is not a good sign," he said.
"As soon as we play someone who is better than us, we seem to lose it all again."
One thing looks certain for the second leg in Monaco on March 17 -- the home side's defence will not crumble. Monaco have only let in four goals in their last 12 matches, and only two in seven Champions League matches this season.
Unless there is a complete turnaround, Arsenal will be eliminated at the last 16 stage for the fifth successive season, and City will again fail in their attempt to make the last eight for the first time.
Not even Scudamore can claim that is football at its finest.