At the end of September, after Arsenal lost their second Champions League match of the fall and tumbled to last place in the group, club manager Arsene Wenger blamed the physical demands of the English Premier League for his squad's unsatisfying performances. Arsenal had originally been expected to flourish at this year's Champions League, following a strong 2014 2015 season. But losses against teams they should have beaten in the group stage-Romania's Dinamo Zagreb and Greece's Olympiacos-have left fans scratching their heads.
So why did Arsenal, a dependably solid football club in the most competitive football league in the world-lose to two relatively minor soccer teams in the Champions League? Because of the competitive nature of the Champions League, Wenger argued. The Arsenal manager reasoned that, while both Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiacos were able to prepare for mid-week Champions League by taking it easy and coasting to wins in their domestic games, Arsenal had to fight a lot harder for their Premier League victories. As a result, Arsenal's players weren't as fresh-either mentally or physically-as their opponents in the UCL.
Every Team a Contender
It would be easy to dismiss Wenger's comments as the complaints of a disgruntled manager letting his frustration show off his sore loser side. But Wenger does have a point. On the Saturday prior to their UCL match with Olympiacos, Arsenal played Leicester City. The Gunners ultimately won the game 5-2 but had to come back from an early 0-1 deficit to do it. At not point could Wenger pull his best players or ease off-at least without letting Leicester back into the game.
Olympiacos had an entirely different experience the Saturday before they faced Arsenal in the Champions League. Playing Pas Giannina in a Greek Super League match, Olympiacos went up 2-0 after just 32 minutes of play. The club was able to ease off and coast to a victory after that-a contrast to what Wenger called a "high-intensity match" between Arsenal and Leicester City.
The reason that the EPL is so demanding-and so draining, on teams like Arsenal-is that virtually every football club in the division can be a viable contender for a top-five finish. This season, for instance, two of the typical "top five" English teams-Chelsea and Liverpool-have been underperforming. General wisdom would indicate that, without these two heavyweight organizations in play, the Premier League would be less competitive. But Leicester City, Crystal Palace, West Ham United, and Everton have all surged in to compete for the open slots in the top-five.
The top teams in the Premier League, in other words, aren't invincible-even against less notable opponents. For instance, Manchester United are a clear contender for the title this year but still lost to Swansea City in the first few weeks of competition. Manchester City, meanwhile, the current frontrunners for the 2015 2016 title, have dropped games against both West Ham and Tottenham. Bottom line, you never quite know who is going to win a game in the Premier division and that fact leaves every club needing to bring their A-game every single week.
From Stars to Underperformers
If you need more proof that Arsene Wenger is right about the demanding nature of the Premier League, look no further than the great, great players who have underperformed in England. So many players have launched promising soccer careers in other countries and come to England on expensive transfers, only to underwhelm here.
The most obvious recent example is Angel di Maria, who came to Manchester United from Real Madrid in 2014, on a massive £59.7 million fee. Di Maria put up decent assist numbers while playing for the Red Devils, but only scored four goals in 32 appearances. Louis van Gaal quickly offloaded di Maria to Paris Saint Germain, where he is already enjoying a notably stronger performance.
Another recent United signing, Memphis Depay, is also having trouble adjusting to the pressures of the EPL. The youngster led the Dutch Eredivisie in goals last season, helping PSV Eindhoven secure a national title with 22 goals in 30 games. (His overall tally in all competitions was 28 goals.) Depay has scored just one goal in league play since donning the Manchester United jersey 2015 2016.
Man United aren't the only club with the problem either. Let's not forget Mario Balotelli's collapse following his high-profile transfer to Liverpool. Or the way Roberto Soldado went from being one of La Liga's best strikers to being a remarkably ineffectual Premier Leaguer when he moved from Valencia to Tottenham in 2013.
And then there's Andriy Shevchenko. Perhaps the best offensive footballer on the planet during his seven years at Milan (he scored 127 goals in 208 appearances), Shevchenko only tallied nine Premier League goals at Chelsea, following a £30 million 2006 transfer.
As you can see, the demanding-and often, crushing-pressure of the Premier League is well documented at this point. Perhaps Arsene Wenger has a point about the UCL schedule being unfair to the teams who played in England's high-intensity top-flight? At Soccer Box, we want to hear your thoughts on the matter, so link up with us on social media to share them! You can find us on Twitter, Instagram, Google +, and other popular social channels.