EPL Big 4: Running out of steam

Despite having substantial resources, better squads and managers with a proven track record, what has gone wrong for the traditional English powerhouses?

Arsenal missed Danny Welbeck's services badly after the striker was forced to miss three-quarters of the season.   -  Getty Images

Louis van Gaal had brought some stability to Manchester United following a disastrous campaign under David Moyes last time out. He had also restored the club to the Champions League and the fans were expectant again. What we have seen this season from United, however, has been painful. While the team hasn't conceded many goals, it has found them hard to come by nevertheless.   -  REUTERS

Leicester City Football Club is on the brink of the most remarkable triumph ever witnessed in English football and none would grudge the team the victory. The Foxes have been the best team in the league for the last 365 days and no other side has accumulated more points during this period.

As Leicester edges closer to glory, the league table shows us that the chasing pack, consisting of Tottenham, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs, City and United, is not exactly breathing down the leader’s neck. Despite having substantial resources, better squads and managers with a proven track record, what has gone wrong for these traditional English powerhouses?

>Read: Spurs close in on Leicester

Arsenal signed Petr Cech from Chelsea in the summer and finally had a safe pair of hands behind Laurent Koscielny and Co. John Terry himself admitted that Cech would single-handedly win them 12-15 points a season. That was the only deal the Gunners conducted in the summer transfer window, and Arsene Wenger’s decision not to sign an outfield player was met with some contempt by the Emirates faithful.

 

Yet, despite the opening day clanger by the Czech goalkeeper in the loss to West Ham, Arsenal got off to a decent start and managed to stay in the top four for the majority of the campaign. However, a club of its stature should be challenging for the title every season, and if Chelsea’s shortcomings, Manchester City’s erratic form and Manchester United’s insipid displays are taken into account, then Arsenal has blown its best chance to win the Premier League title.

Olivier Giroud is not a 20-goals-a-season striker, Theo Walcott has not done enough to prove he warrants a starting spot in the centre-forward position and Danny Welbeck’s absence through injury for three-quarters of the season has hurt Arsenal. Emmanuel Adebayor was the last Arsenal striker to break the 20-goal barrier and that was eight years ago.

Francis Coquelin’s emergence and Mohammed Elneny’s arrival in January helped the Gunners soften the blow of Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey’s injuries but not to the extent of converting draws into wins.

Mesut Ozil has been Arsenal’s only shining light in another season of what might have been. Exits from the domestic cups and Europe means the North London side will end the season without any silverware.

Manchester City started the season with a bang, winning its first five games without conceding a goal. Kevin de Bruyne and Raheem Sterling had arrived for hefty sums and wasted no time in going about to prove their worth. City seemed hell-bent on recapturing the title from Chelsea and the way it was playing, it looked like it would canter to glory.

However, over the years, the blue half of Manchester has failed to address one big problem, and that is the defence. Big money was spent on Nicolas Otamendi and while he is better than Eliaquim Mangala and Martin Demichelis, he is still not the answer.

 

Vincent Kompany, when fit, is the best defender in the Premier League. But it has come to a stage where City cannot rely on its inspirational skipper. He is prone to missing at least one-third of a season through injury and without him, the defence just cannot hold its own.

Sergio Aguero has had another 20-goal season and he has led from the front extremely well. Exciting youngster Kelechi Iheanacho has ably supported him with goal scoring cameos when called upon. The same cannot be said of Wilfried Bony, who in all probability will not be a Manchester City player next season.

Kevin de Bruyne has been the standout performer for The Citizens this season with his incisive play in the final third. He missed two months of action through injury, from February to April, and that has cost City dear. It definitely would still be in the title race with de Bruyne in the team and firing on all cylinders.

Manchester United and Chelsea have won nine out of the last 11 Premier League titles and the latter seemed set to add to that tally having won the title in style last year. But Jose Mourinho’s outburst against his own medical staff on the opening weekend set the tone for what was to follow. The champion never got going and the relationship between Mourinho and some of his players deteriorated. He tried to fix the situation but it backfired and Chelsea decided to part ways (again) with its most successful manager, with the team languishing just above the relegation zone after having made the worst start to a season ever by a defending champion.

Louis van Gaal had brought some stability to Manchester United following a disastrous campaign under David Moyes last time out. He had also restored the club to the Champions League and the fans were expectant again. What we have seen this season from United, however, has been painful. While the team hasn’t conceded many goals, it has found them hard to come by nevertheless. Old Trafford has seen the least number of goals scored in the league this season.

By introducing academy players towards the later stage of the season, van Gaal has managed to bring back some excitement among the United fans while significantly improving the team’s performances. Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have shone brightly and may become household names in the years to come. But United’s early season woe has cost it dearly. The title is out of the question but a top four place is still up for grabs provided it continues in this vein and hopes its noisy neighbour slips up somewhere. Tottenham, under Mauricio Pochettino, is Leicester’s closest challenger for the title. Spurs have been brilliant this season, a young and hungry side built by an ambitious and hard-working manager. For now, though, we must raise our glasses to Claudio Ranieri and his Foxes.