Premier League left to sift through European wreckage
The self-proclaimed "best league in the world" was having a long look at itself in the mirror on Thursday after Arsenal's exit left the Premier League with no quarter-finalists in Europe's blue riband club competition for the first time in 17 years.
Arsenal's impressive 2-0 victory in Munich came too late to rescue the Gunners who went out on away goals after a 3-1 defeat in the home leg, leaving them on this season's Champions League scrapheap along with Manchester United, last year's winners Chelsea and Manchester City.
The Premier League hierarchy will no doubt insist it is a blip and not a clear sign of a decline in quality in the richest league in the world, but Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted it was a wake-up call.
"It's a massive disappointment for English football," the Frenchman said in the aftermath of Arsenal's brave, but ultimately doomed, fightback in Bavaria.
"We accept the rest of European football has caught us.
"We had Manchester City and United, Chelsea and Arsenal all out by the quarter-final.
"It's a long time since that happened. We have to take that into consideration in the way we think about the future of the Premier League."
Image: Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky (L) reacts following his team's Champions League round of 16 second leg soccer match against Bayern Munich
Photographs: Michael Dalder/Reuters
Premier League clearly does not possess any truly outstanding teams
Arsenal fell at the last-16 hurdle for the third consecutive season, while United were unlucky to go out against Real Madrid last week at the same stage.
Chelsea became the first holders of the Champions League to fail to survive the group stage while English champions Manchester City finished bottom of their group, an even worse showing than last season when they also failed to reach the knockout rounds.
It is a far cry from the days when English clubs dominated the latter stages and despite the prospect of a fresh influx of money from improved broadcasting deals next season, the Premier League clearly does not possess any truly outstanding teams.
Between 2007 and 2009 England boasted nine semi-finalists. In 2007-08 Chelsea played Manchester United in the final and the following season three of the four semi-finalists were English even if Barcelona won the title.
Since then, however, only three English clubs have reached the last four, although Chelsea did fly the flag last season with their unlikely run to glory in Munich.
Image: Ryan Giggs of Manchester United reacts after Nani is sent off during the UEFA Champions League
Photographs: Jasper Juinen/Getty Images
'Arsenal showed what a quality team they are'
England have had four teams eligible for the Champions League since the 2002-03 season and in 2005-06, the season after Liverpool beat AC Milan in Istanbul, they had five teams involved but Everton were eliminated in the qualifying round.
England currently top UEFA's club coefficient ranking which determine the number of entries each country has in the competition and a UEFA spokesman told Reuters on Thursday it would be "many years" before there was any chance of England's entries being reduced from the current allocation.
"There would have to be a sustained lack of success and even then it would take many years before England's number was reduced," UEFA said.
Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes played down the significance of this season's Premier League failure.
"I think comparisons like this don't bring much," he said Heynckes. "We have had German teams knocked out early in previous years."Arsenal showed what a quality team they are. You get cycles like that in football. I think the English teams will be back next year."
Image: Arsenal's goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny (L) and Laurent Koscielny (C) challenge Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez during their Champions League soccer match
Photographs: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Manchester United look set for title
While Heynckes may be proved right, the quality at the top end of the Premier League does appear to have tailed off in recent seasons.
Manchester United are romping to this year's title, 12 points clear of Manchester City, yet even the most partisan Red would probably admit the current side is not a vintage one.
City have regressed since last season, Chelsea are in a state of flux, having sacked Roberto Di Matteo and replaced him with the unpopular Rafa Benitez, and Arsenal are clearly several players short of being challengers for the title.
Liverpool are gradually improving under Brendan Rodgers having fallen a long way back while Tottenham Hotspur, currently third in the Premier League, are trying desperately to become regular members of the top-four.
Things are unlikely to get any easier next season either.
Image: Robin van Persie of Manchester United celebrates after scoring
Photographs: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
'You cannot always be at the top'
With UEFA's financial fair play rules beginning to curb spending habits, clubs may not be able to justify mass signings this summer, so rebuilding might take time.
The Premier League remains a superb product, producing rich entertainment week in, week out, but its European rivals have upped the ante, with Paris St Germain now a new powerhouse in France and the threat from the east, namely the money-rich leagues in Russia and Ukraine, growing.
Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville, twice a Champions League winner, said the Premier League would have to raise the bar again next season.
"We are not in a strong moment. There is no point denying it. It works in cycles," he said.
"You cannot always be at the top. Maybe we are having a period where we are in a little bit of a dip."
Image: Chelsea players walk off the pitch
Photographs: Scott Heavey/Getty Images