Arsene Wenger meanwhile last month lamented how defensive non Big Six clubs have become. “First of all the crowds accepts it,” he said. “They start with the idea that if it’s a 0-0 it’s a good result. Every tackle they make the crowd goes ‘wahhhh’. You would say as long as you don’t score the first goal you’re in a position where you have to take a gamble. It is a modern problem.”
But really can anyone blame those sides when the odds are so far stacked against them?
The Premier League has of course been dispiritingly oligopolistic before. Between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 seasons, only once did any of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester fail to finish in the top four (and in that anomalous season Liverpool qualified for the Champions League in any case by winning the competition). But at least then there were clubs like Everton, Aston Villa and Tottenham who went close to breaking up the group and could regularly bloody the noses of the ‘Big Four’.
Fast forward to the present day and 7th-placed Burnley, who are enjoying a wonderful season, still find themselves five points behind struggling Arsenal and far closer in points terms to bottom club Swansea than leaders Manchester City. Over the festive period, the Big Six sides drew a few games, but matches like Everton 0 Manchester United 2 and Swansea 0 Tottenham 2 were depressingly samey and routine. Stoke City meanwhile – understandably given their crazy schedule – played a reserve team in their 5-0 shellacking at Chelsea to keep players fresh for a theoretically winnable game against Newcastle.
What’s worrying is that the gulf only looks like widening – especially if the Big Six eventually get their way and convince the other teams in the league to accept a merit-based payment system that would see overseas money distributed according to where clubs finish in the table.
Hype has always sustained the Premier League, but never has it felt further from it’s self-proclaimed status as the best in the world.