You have to go back some time for the last occasion that the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals featured not a single English representative. It was 17 years ago, to be precise, and followed Blackburn Rovers FC's exit in the group stage.
That was the era of Britpop and when March 1996 rolled around, Oasis were topping the UK charts with 'Don't look back in anger'. It is fair to say the Premier League's four eliminated teams will be looking back with a mixture of emotions on this season's competition – few of them positive.
Arsenal FC's exit, confirmed after their Pyrrhic victory in Munich last night, meant they followed Manchester United FC in losing in the last 16, while holders Chelsea FC and Manchester City FC had already fallen at the group stage. Of course, it is possible to single out different reasons behind each club's failure. Former Arsenal striker Alan Smith, speaking in the Sky Sports commentary box in Munich last night, spoke of the "state of flux" that both his old side and Chelsea are in at present. In United's case, they at least showed something of their best, looking in control of their second-leg contest with Real Madrid CF until Nani's dismissal.
The postmortem will go on, but the fact is that the most successful era for English clubs in the competition since before their 1985–91 ban is at an end. It has produced wins for Liverpool FC (2005), United (2008) and Chelsea (2012), but peaked in the late Noughties when, for three seasons between 2007 and '09, the Premier League provided nine of the 12 semi-finalists.
Arsène Wenger last night described it as a "massive wake-up call" for English football. "It means that the rest of Europe has caught back up with us and we have to take that into consideration in the way we think about the future of the Premier League," he said.
Perhaps the key thing to think about for the Premier League's wannabes is some urgent defensive repair work. "Premier League defending has been in decline for a while," notes the Daily Telegraph today. Though the thrills and spills of our domestic game ensure plenty of excitement, for the challenge of Europe, the balance is evidently not right. Arsenal's clean sheet in Munich was only the fourth in 28 matches involving Premier League clubs in this season's competition – like their victory on the night, a case of too little, too late.
• Incidentally, three clubs from that 1995/96 UEFA Champions League quarter-final lineup are also in the hat for tomorrow's draw: Borussia Dortmund, Juventus and Madrid. The other five were AFC Ajax, Legia Warszawa, FC Nantes, Panathinaikos FC and FC Spartak Moskva.
The opinions expressed here are the writer's own and not those of UEFA.
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