Welcome to the first Monday Musings, a new weekly series where we’ll be looking back at the football from the weekend.
This week, the focus is more failings for some of England’s top sides and the concern it should bring for every football fan in the country.
With Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all pursuing their respective targets, and with so few games remaining, it was surprising to see all three elite clubs falter in their own rights, potentially scuppering their end of season plans.
Arsenal, in true Arsenal-like fashion, capitulated at Upton Park in Saturday’s early kick-off to throw away a two-goal lead and draw 3-3 with West Ham United, which left them 13 points behind leaders Leicester City at the end of the weekend action and effectively ended their slim hopes of Premier League success.
The most shocking outcome from the Arsenal game may well be seen as Andy Carroll’s hat-trick but, in truth, the major shock was the fact that everybody saw Carroll giving the Arsenal back-line a tough time. Everybody except Arsene Wenger, that is.
Electing to play the out-of-sorts and non-English speaking Gabriel Paulista over Per Mertesacker was puzzling in any game but the fact that the 6 ft 4 centre-back wasn’t chosen to compete against Carroll was just baffling and, ultimately, cost Arsenal the match.
Not to be outdone by their London rivals, Chelsea fell apart in the 3pm Premier League kick-off as they lost 1-0 to a struggling Swansea City. It ended Guus Hiddink’s unbeaten run in league football and left the Blues needing a massive turnaround if they are to hand Antonio Conte some European action next season.
Ten defeats this season for the defending Premier League champions is staggering in it’s own right but it did at least show there is still a wealth of work to be done at Stamford Bridge, which should keep Antonio Conte occupied.
Lastly, at the end of a week where reports suggested Louis Van Gaal may actually keep his job, Manchester United fell apart against Tottenham Hotspur. It wasn’t surprising to see Spurs winning but United’s disjointed side left a lot to be desired.
It left the Red Devils four points behind Manchester City in the race for a top-four finish, which United definitely do not deserve, and they’re now just five points above Liverpool, which means they may fall out of the European spots altogether.
The latest weekend of action really identified once again the decline of England’s elite clubs, given the trio all competed in this season’s Champions League, and raises some alarm bells on the decline of the English game altogether.
Sure, Leicester City’s phenomenal season will stand out for years to come but will they compete in Europe properly next year? Will Tottenham be able to adjust to Champions League football and maintain their push for a top finish in the Premier League?
It takes the right balance to be able to compete on all fronts and some massive sides have failed to strike that balance in the past, just look at Manchester City’s first few years in the Champions League, and it really makes you realise that we could go a decade without seeing a English club succeed in Europe.
Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United all have work to do this summer but the job is far from done for Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur too. We can celebrate the competitiveness of the Premier League but it does overshadow the fact that our game is slipping behind our continental rivals.
Wolfsburg became the latest Bundesliga side to enjoy a great Champions League campaign, putting one-foot in the semi-finals with a 2-0 first-leg win over Real Madrid, given England’s elite clubs another major competitor on the continent.
Paris Saint-Germain continue to get stronger, whilst Atletico Madrid’s rise cannot be stopped, so it seems that the other major clubs from European’s top leagues are continuing to grow and become more competitive, whilst the numbers from the Premier League continue to slip away.
Hopefully, Manchester City and Liverpool can provide some inspiration to English football this week.