By Rob Kelly
Arsène Wenger says that English clubs’ early exits from the Champions League this season should serve as a major wake-up call.
Arsenal were knocked out by AC Milan on Tuesday despite a rousing comeback at Emirates Stadium, while Chelsea are 3-1 down after the first leg of their tie against Napoli.
Earlier in the season, Manchester United and Manchester City both failed to qualify from the group stages and Wenger says it indicates that other European leagues are starting to grow in strength.
With that in mind, he says it could be crucial to claim a top-three place in the Premier League and thus avoid a Champions League qualifying tie.
“Of course [it is a wake-up call] - if you look at the results of Man City and Man United at home this season, you would think that they were the two teams who would manage to go through easily. It is difficult,” Wenger said.
“For any English team it is difficult [if you finish fourth]. Where before it was just a formality to qualify, now it is not. With Udinese we had two hard games, they are a top team in Serie A.”
Wenger believes the intensity of the domestic fixture list could be the reason why many of England’s top clubs have failed to shine in Europe this season.
“We played on Sunday against Tottenham and it was a massive game for us. Then all of the players go away and they play on Wednesday night in their countries,” he said.
“Then they come back on the Friday and you go to Liverpool on Saturday morning. Then on Tuesday night you play a decisive game in Europe. To survive with that is very difficult.
“Maybe because in England every championship game is a complete commitment, we suffer a bit more in the decisive Champions League games.”
Despite his concerns, Wenger would not be in favour of cutting the size of the Premier League to help reduce the workload.
“I wouldn't go that far because it would be an easy excuse and you would really kill a country that is football orientated with two more clubs out of the league,” he said.
“[When] they made it only 25 players in a squad, it was detrimental to the quality. It creates a lot of jobless people, it stops clubs taking a gamble that could sometimes be a help and I felt that was a very bad decision.
“I would not like to see the responsibility shifted somewhere else, though. We are in the clubs and we have to fight with it.
“When it goes well it goes well, this season did not go well. Maybe the clubs have to up the quality of their game.”Copyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 10 Mar 2012