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Why Are Premier League Clubs Failing in Europe?

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Considering the buildup and general comment that Premier League clubs had a favourable draw in the Champions League, the treble whammy of defeat gave a rude awakening. All three of Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United were going into their games as favourites, even with City facing tougher opposition in Juventus than Dinamo Zagreb and PSV Eindhoven.

But, Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv aside, English clubs were left embarrassed. The Manchester clubs felt even worse, as despite taking the lead, they left the pitch empty-handed.

Juventus are of course a huge name on the European stage, but this was not the Bianconeri at their very strongest; they had lost to Udinese and Roma, only claiming a point against Chievo too in their Serie A campaign heading to Manchester.

The Italians had managed to make the Champions Final last year, but their influential trio of Andrea Pirlo, Arturo Vidal and Carlos Tevez had all left for pastures new; this was a team still finding their feet, and their leaders.

But they clearly still knew how to get a result, even after falling behind. Taking advantage of City’s errors, they struck with the ruthlessness that their hosts just do not seem to possess on the continental stage.

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City themselves are an interesting case of English football in the European arena right now. The almost bottomless funds and resources available to them have brought them managers and players their fans would have dreamed of, but this hasn’t made a difference.

They finally cracked their group stage problem last year, only to lose to eventual winners Barcelona. Exiting to Barca isn’t shameful, but the way City set up in both legs with two strikers was borderline crazy.

Perhaps that is the greatest difference between English teams and their foreign opposition: tactics. The Premier League is billed as the most exciting, with end-to-end football, but often the games are like that because of a lack of organisation.

The influx of not just foreign players, but managers and backroom staff, helped the English newly-branded top flight in its embryonic life back in the nineties drag itself out of the dark 1980s off the pitch, but why is the Premier League being left behind by Spain and Germany, despite their relative smaller finances?

For me, the Premier League needs to recognise where they are outside of their comfortable domestic bubble. The wealth has grown the league, but it has led to complacency.

Barring the dominant duo of Barcelona and Real Madrid, La Liga clubs do not possess the deep pockets that many of their Premier League equivalents have, but that hasn’t shown on their travels.

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Take Sevilla for example. A financial problem in summer 2013 forced them to sell stars like Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas, ironically to Manchester City, but managed to finish four places higher than 2012/13 in fifth and won the 2014 Europa League final, recording a £40m transfer profit to boot.

After that 2014 triumph, the vultures circled again: Young left back Alberto Moreno left for Liverpool and Ivan Rakitic, the undoubted star of the team, left for Barcelona.

But clever rebuilding, such as Grzegorz Krychowiak for £3.85m who could easily fetch that fee six times over now, meant the Andalusians could repeat the trick again: a fifth placed finish and triumph in the Europa League final.

Yet Europe’s second competition is not embraced by the English clubs; instead of being another route into the much-vaunted Champions League, it is seen as a distraction.

The likes of Liverpool and Tottenham may think it is easier to qualify through the league, but surely fighting with similar sized teams over less games is easier than taking on the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City over 38 games?

The money has also washed away most of the identity of those clubs, too. The clubs at the very top of the English pyramid should be bringing through top quality young players, but often that simply isn’t the case.

Rather than taking the time and having the patience to develop a player who represents their own values, English clubs would often rather buy a ready made player, or even worse buy a youngster from abroad!

It could be argued that the three other English clubs could look at how Chelsea operate in Europe. The fact that Jose Mourinho will often forego attacking football in the Champions League is criticised, yet his record arguably makes it worthwhile, and the Blues are the only English club to have won Ol’ Big Ears in the past decade.

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Even Barcelona and Bayern Munich when they have triumphed on the European stage have looked to play more of a counter-attacking way, but made sure they kept their shape as strong as possible in doing so.

English clubs need to be far smarter in Europe, and treat their opponent with the respect they deserve. Do that, and the amount of money spent by them won’t look so foolish.

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Tottenham 1-0 Arsenal: Unstoppable Harry Kane the difference again for Spurs

Rob Meech brings us three talking points as Tottenham stole a march over London rivals Arsenal to further cement their hold on a top four place.

Rob Meech

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Harry Kane was the match-winner as Tottenham Hotspur beat fierce rivals Arsenal to tighten their grip on qualification for next season’s Champions League.

The England striker headed home Ben Davies’ cross for his 23rd Premier League goal of the campaign, just after half-time.

Spurs deserved to win the match – and Kane perhaps should have added to his tally – although substitute Alexandre Lacazette squandered two late opportunities to snatch a point for the Gunners.

Victory moved Tottenham above Chelsea and into fourth spot in the table but crucially, their advantage over sixth-placed Arsenal now stands at seven points.

Having missed out on the top four last season, the Gunners face another uphill battle following their third successive away defeat.

Here are three talking points from an enthralling north London derby…

Dominant Spurs show their mettle

During a tricky spell of results, doubts were cast over Tottenham’s top-four credentials. They have surely now been banished.

Runs of fixtures don’t come much trickier than Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal.

Not only did Spurs come through unscathed with seven points from a possible nine, but the football they played showed they are more than a match for any Premier League team – and arguably the best suited to challenge the supremacy of Manchester City.

The margin of victory over Arsenal may have been only a single goal, but Mauricio Pochettino’s men were dominant in every department.

They peppered Petr Cech’s goal and the ingenuity and creativity of Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen perfectly complemented Kane’s ruthlessness.

Defensively, they are very sound and the depth of the squad was highlighted by the options Pochettino had on his bench.

Now nine games unbeaten, Spurs are peaking at the right time.

Arsenal’s top-four hopes suffer hammer blow

From the positivity that emerged from Arsenal’s thumping of Everton last weekend, this was a reality check.

The big trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were in the starting XI once again, but they couldn’t have the influence that tore the Toffees to shreds seven days earlier.

With 11 games remaining, the Gunners are somewhat cut adrift in the race for the top four.

There is no denying this defeat was a hammer blow to their ambitions.

Arsenal missed out on Champions League qualification last season for the first time since Arsene Wenger took the reins and revolutionised the club.

Despite the investment made during the summer and in January, it looks like the same fate will befall them this campaign.

Success in the Europa League – mirroring Manchester United last season – increasingly appears to be their most likely route back into Europe’s showpiece competition.

Unstoppable Kane is the difference once again

It feels like every time Spurs win, Kane is the man they have to thank.

The 24-year-old moved to 101 Premier League goals and decided the outcome of this derby with a towering header that gave Cech no chance.

Is there no stopping this prolific goalscorer, who continues to go from strength to strength?

In truth, Kane could have walked away with a hat-trick, but his seventh goal in as many north London derbies was sufficient to claim the three points.

Kane is not just a traditional number nine – his all-round game is mightily impressive.

This was a man-of-the-match display in which he showed off all facets to his game.

From spraying 40-yard passes, holding up the ball and pulling defenders out of position, to possessing an unerring ability to find himself in space, this was a complete performance by a remarkable player.

Keeping Kane at the club could well be the biggest challenge Tottenham face this summer, if suitors come calling.

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Which four of the ‘big-six’ clubs will qualify for next season’s Champions League?

Martyn Cooke

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There are just 12 games remaining of the current Premier League season and, with Manchester City seemingly destined to secure the title, attention will now turn towards the battle to secure a place in the top-four.

There are only three places available to share between Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea and Liverpool and two of those clubs will be have to be content with competing in the Europa League next season.

Here, The Boot Room predicts who will finish in the top four at the end of the season…

Arsenal

There was once a time when the possibility of Arsene Wenger and Arsenal failing to qualify for the Champions League was unthinkable, yet the Gunners are facing the realistic possibility of missing out on playing in Europe’s elite club competition for the second consecutive season.

This campaign they have been held back by their inconsistent and unpredictable form away from home and are playing catch-up with their rivals with a five-point gap emerging between themselves and fourth place.

There is a new sense of optimism around the Emirates Stadium after Wenger added Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan to his squad yet a defeat against Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday would all but end their hopes – qualifying through winning the Europa League could be a more realistic option.

Prediction: 6th

Manchester United

There is currently a slight sense of disappointment around Old Trafford this season that, despite obvious progress since the arrival of Jose Mourinho, the club have had to be content with seeing cross-city rivals Manchester City stroll their way towards the Premier League title.

It is difficult to imagine Manchester United missing out on a Champions League place as they already have a considerable buffer of seven points and undoubtedly have a squad that is full of quality and experience.

The arrival of Alexis Sanchez will provide additional impetus in the closing stages of the campaign and the only real danger is that their attention might be redirected towards challenging for the Champions League or FA Cup with the title already all but lost.

However, Mouirnho has his team ticking over nicely and it is likely that they will maintain their current league position.

Prediction: 2nd  

Chelsea

It has been a frustrating and increasing turbulent season at Stamford Bridge following the failure of Chelsea to build on last season’s title triumph.

Back-to-back defeats against Bournemouth and Watford have left the Blues clinging on to their place in the top four and there is now a realistic possibility that they may miss out on Champions League qualification.

Antonio Conte’s frustration with the club’s transfer policy has been clear to see since the summer and the off-pitch squabbling can only be a destabilising influence for the players.

Chelsea are certainly a team that are out of form and appear to be short of confidence and direction and it will be a true test of Conte’s managerial prowess to see if he can facilitate some sort of revival in the closing months of the season.

However, momentum is currently against them and they may well be one of the two clubs to miss out.

Prediction: 6th

Liverpool

You get the sense that it is always two steps forward followed by one step back at Anfield under Jurgen Klopp and you never know quite what to expect.

Liverpool continue to be consistently inconsistent as demonstrated by their recent, contrasting performances against Manchester City and Swansea City.

The arrival of Virgil van Dijk in the January transfer window is a boost, although recent games have suggested that he alone will not solve the club’s defensive frailties, whilst the sale of Phillip Coutinho is offset by the impressive array of attacking players that Klopp has collected.

If Liverpool can put together a good run of results then they will be able to capitalise on Antonio Conte’s woes as Chelsea and finish in the top four.

Prediction: 4th

Tottenham Hotspur

Tottenham Hotspur supporters will now have a taste for Champions League football after the success of their team in this year’s competition and they are hitting form at just the right moment in the Premier League.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side are unbeaten since mid-December and have plenty of momentum with the inspirational figure of Harry Kane continuing to his remarkable, prolific run of form in front of goal.

Much will depend on whether the England striker can stay fit until the end of the season whilst they also need Dele Alli to rediscover the sparkle that he has lost in recent months.

Tottenham face a season-defining fixture on Saturday when they face Arsenal in the North London derby but they should have enough quality to qualify for next season’s Champions League.

Prediction: 3rd

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan now requires consistency to live up to his reputation at Arsenal

After an impressive cameo in Arsenal’s 5-1 victory over Everton on Sunday, Henrikh Mkhitaryan now needs to maintain his level of performance if he is to fulfill his potential in the Premier League, writers Jake Jackman.

Jake Jackman

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan
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Arsenal were one of the more active sides during the January transfer window and the addition of Henrikh Mkhitaryan could be looked back on as one of the signings of the season.

The Armenian international joined in part-exchange for the unpopular Alexis Sanchez and the Gunners side that played against Everton this past weekend looked to be much freer on the pitch.

It would be simplistic to suggest it was entirely down to Mkhitaryan and fellow new signing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but they clearly had a positive impact on the squad.

This level of performance will have to be displayed on a more consistent basis before supporters get too excited about this representing a new dawn for the club, but the first signs were encouraging.

Arsenal played Everton off the pitch and were out of sight by half-time. The match finished in a comfortable 5-1 win for the home side.

Although it was a disappointment not to keep a clean sheet, the side were near perfect throughout and that gives them something to build on heading into the closing months of the season.

It was a surprise when the rumoured swap deal involving Sanchez and Mkhitaryan eventually went through.

In the modern game, it is rare for straight swap deals to happen and it is even less common for it to involve two clubs that have been fierce rivals in the recent past.

The majority of the coverage suggested that it was a far better deal for Manchester United and it was seen as a sign of weakness from Arsenal.

Considering the form of the two players since arriving in England, that is a difficult viewpoint to argue against.

However, the Gunners will have seen the appeal of signing an experienced international and his first start indicated that he could be a huge success in North London.

The former Borussia Dortmund player made an immediate impact and contributed three assists during the match.

Manchester United had signed him in 2016 to add creativity to their ranks and although he threatened to do that at times, he never found his stride at Old Trafford.

It can be argued that his performance against Everton on his Arsenal home debut was the best of his Premier League career to date.

Given it came just weeks into his career in North London, there is reason to be genuinely excited about what he can achieve in a Gunners’ shirt.

Mkhitaryan was most dangerous down the right-wing, as he twice got free and supplied good balls in for two of Aaron Ramsey’s goals.

However, one advantage of playing him in a front three with Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi and Aubameyang was that he could interchange positions as the game progressed.

His second assist came when he moved into a central area and played a nice through ball to the striker he regularly supplied at Borussia Dortmund.

Their previous relationship has allowed both to settle quickly into the Arsenal team and the benefits were there to be seen on the weekend.

The Armenian played only three key passes, which is a surprise considering his influence on the game, but those that witnessed the whole match will attest to his quality.

He looked a completely different player to the one that was devoid of confidence at Manchester United.

In addition to creating several chances and making three goals, Mkhitaryan came close to scoring himself.

He popped up on the right wing in the first half and cut inside before producing a powerful effort that went just wide of the post.

Jose Mourinho was reluctant to give a prominent role to the attacker at Old Trafford as he had doubts about Mkhitaryan’s defensive work.

However, that part of his game was very impressive against Everton, as he won four aerial duels and completed seven ball recoveries.

He attempted 10 tackles in all and was successful in less than half of them (four), but he showed a willingness to work hard and that will have pleased Arsene Wenger.

The next challenge for Mkhitaryan will be to find the consistency that alluded him during his time in England so far.

He has shown flashes of his ability, but he hasn’t lived up to his reputation and his confidence levels dropped as a result.

His home debut should have provided him with plenty of that and it is crucial that he uses that to motivate him over the rest of the season.

If he can maintain this high level, Arsenal will have the player that Manchester United had hoped they were getting when they signed the Armenian.

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