Barcelona more beatable than ever before, says Arsenal's Arsene Wenger
LONDON -- Arsene Wenger believes Champions League holders Barcelona are not out of reach of English clubs, but blamed the competitive nature of the Premier League for hurting its teams in Europe.
Manchester City is the only English team in the quarterfinals of the Champions League after Arsenal were knocked out by Barcelona 5-1 on aggregate on Wednesday. But despite that convincing Barcelona victory, Wenger rejects the idea that clubs like the Spanish giants and Germany's Bayern Munich are now out of reach of English teams.
"They are not. And the regret I have from the two games against Barcelona is that maybe they were more beatable than ever before when we played against them. They are not so much out of reach," Wenger insisted.
And part of the problem, the Frenchman thinks, is that the other European leagues aren't nearly as tough as the Premier League. Barcelona are eight points clear in La Liga, while Bayern only have one real domestic rival in Borussia Dortmund. In France, Paris Saint-Germain wrapped up the title already.
In the Premier League, meanwhile, all the traditional powers have struggled this season, dropping points regularly against smaller clubs while outsiders Leicester and Tottenham top the table.
"Maybe the Premier League has become the Champions League for English teams. Because every game is so difficult in the Premier League that maybe we suffer a bit in Europe," Wenger said. "Barcelona can walk through their games before they play against us. They played on Saturday afternoon with a team that after 20 minutes was 3-0 up. ... They can select a little bit how much they go for it. In the Premier League you cannot."
Last year, no English clubs made the quarterfinals of the competition. It's a far cry from 2008, when Manchester United beat Chelsea in the final. Chelsea's semifinal opponent that year was Liverpool, who in turn had defeated Arsenal in the quarterfinals.
Since then, Spanish and German clubs have dominated, although Chelsea improbably managed to win in 2012. But Wenger believes these cycles repeat themselves, and that English teams will soon be back among Europe's elite, especially since the Premier League's increased riches from next season will help lure more of the world's top players to England.
"Football belongs first to the players and the quality of the players. I believe that with more income in England the best players will slowly all come to England, and that will be the answer," Wenger said. "For years we were in England always in the last [four]. Sometimes you played an English team in the quarterfinals or the semifinals of the Champions League. I believe that will come back again, I don't worry about that."
Other countries also do more with their scheduling to help Champions League teams get more rest ahead of European games.
The Premier League will also start scheduling some games for Friday nights beginning next season, which can help teams playing in Europe the following Tuesday.
But Wenger refused to blame scheduling for the English teams' struggles.
"I don't want to say it's the fault of television when we go out, because I don't believe that at all," Wenger said. "But does the schedule in England help or not? I would say overall no, but for me it's not an excuse because we dealt with it before.
"We had English teams playing in the final of the Champions League before, all of them basically with the same schedule."
Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.