Going gets tough for English giants

The likely demise of Arsenal at the last 16 stage of the Champions League only confirms the sea change occurring in European football. The EPL boasts it is the most exciting league in the world. It would love to think it was the best. So many facts say currently it is not. Remember, Manchester United and Manchester City went out at the Champions League group stage this season. Over to Frank Malley.

The true cost of Arsenal's humiliating 4-0 defeat against AC Milan in the San Siro is as yet unknown.

It will come when Robin van Persie sits down to consider a new contract.

Van Persie is the English Premier League's leading goal scorer. A stand-out candidate for Footballer of the Year.

Yet at the end of it the chances are he will end up once more without a trophy and quite possibly without Champions League football to look forward to next season. Could anyone blame Van Persie, with a year left on his Arsenal contract, if the memories of the darkest of black nights in Italy persuaded him to look elsewhere in the search for medals?

That is the precipice on which Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger stands.

Arsenal, whose last major trophy, the FA Cup, came in 2005, no longer win things. They are no longer a club who look like winning things. Their manager either cannot or will not spend big to attract the best players. At best they are treading water in English football. There are those who believe they are sinking fast because of Wenger's inability to deal with their most enduring problems.

They are not a secret. Arsenal's defence, in corporate speak, is not fit for purpose. It is unlocked with embarrassing ease by simple, over-the-top football which AC Milan identified and readily exploited. The midfield lacks bite. The team lacks leadership and drive and has done since the departure of Patrick Vieira in 2005.

It was something even Wenger's famous myopia could not miss in the San Siro and, to his credit, the Frenchman was sneeringly honest. “It was a shocking result and a shocking performance,” admitted Wenger. “The result is a disaster. We were never in the game, we were very poor offensively and defensively. There was not one moment in the 90 minutes we were really in the game.”

Surely now Wenger can see that his vision of youngsters playing intelligent, one-touch football, capable of winning football's greatest prizes, is just that. A vision. A dream. Nothing more.

For five years critics have been describing Arsenal as all style and little substance. Yes, they look pretty, but football is a balance between pragmatism and style and Arsenal still have too little of the former.

Yet the likely demise of Arsenal at the last 16 stage of the Champions League only confirms the sea change occurring in European football.

The EPL boasts it is the most exciting league in the world. It would love to think it was the best.

So many facts say currently it is not. Remember, Manchester United and Manchester City went out at the Champions League group stage this season.

Remember, too, back to the World Cup in South Africa. If the EPL was so superior how come not one of its players featured in the official all-star team chosen by a global poll?

That team comprised: Goalkeeper Iker Casillas (Spain). Defenders Sergio Ramos and Carles Puyol (Spain), Maicon (Brazil), Philipp Lahm (Germany). Midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi (Spain), Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Wesley Sneijder (Holland). Forwards Diego Forlan (Uruguay), David Villa (Spain).

Only former Manchester United striker Forlan of that line-up has ever played in the EPL.

The fact is that, regardless of the phenomenal wages in the EPL, the world's top players can still resist the temptation and the hype. There is another reason. Tax. The current highest tax rate in Great Britain is 50%. In Spain and Germany it is 45%, in Italy 43%.

Perhaps, however, it comes down to former Manchester United captain Roy Keane's stark warning for English football.

“The brand is fantastic but maybe we're not as good as we think we are,” said Keane when asked about the EPL. “There are tough days ahead for the teams.”

For Arsenal in particular, which is why Van Persie has a decision to make.

* * *

It is the Rangers supporters, who have turned out their pockets so often for the club they love, who deserve our sympathy.

The players might feel some initial pain but they can move on from the financial mess which has left the club in administration with a 10-point deduction.

The fans, however, cannot walk, even though they have been robbed of their hopes and dreams with this season's title race wrecked and the wider consequences for Scottish football even bleaker.

© PA Sport, 2012, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, re-written, re-distributed or commercially exploited. Sportstar is not responsible for any inaccuracy in the material.