ARSENE WENGER might well have been ranting out of pure bitterness.
He might also have gone overboard when he claimed a lack of ‘morality’.
And he was certainly employing the age-old mindgame tactics of Sir Alex Ferguson in attempting to wind up the under-motivated opponents of rival clubs.
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But however selfish his motives, the Arsenal manager was correct to turn his fire on the Premier League’s also-rans.
Because our mid-table clubs are richer than ever — and yet mid-table mediocrity has never been as mediocre.
Members of ‘The 40 Point Club’, for whom Premier League survival appears to be the sole aim, have been a rabble this season.
These clubs ought to have been boosted by a massive injection of extra TV cash and inspired by Leicester’s title triumph.
West Ham, Southampton and the Foxes all rank among the 22 richest clubs on the planet, while Stoke, West Brom and Crystal Palace are expected to break into the top 30 when this season’s figures are announced.
Of course, the extraordinary TV deal which kicked in last summer made the richest richer, too.
But as the top six can only give regular first-team football to a finite number of players, massively increasing the wealth of the rest of the Premier League should have made the whole thing more competitive.
In recent years, Stoke have signed elite players like Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan and Giannelli Imbula, yet they are further away than ever from reaching the glass ceiling shattered by Leicester last term.
West Brom were the only outsiders to threaten a breakthrough this season. Yet since reaching 40 points as soon as late February, Tony Pulis’ experienced and muscular side have lost eight out of 11 and won just once.
Wenger will have noted, crankily, that Albion’s SOLITARY win came against Arsenal, while warring factions among the away support were flying planes over The Hawthorns.
West Ham and Southampton, who both finished above Chelsea and Liverpool last season, have gone backwards.
The Hammers had to endure a move to an unsuitable new stadium, yet still their record against leading clubs has been dismal, especially home whippings by Manchester City (twice), Arsenal and Liverpool.
Slaven Bilic’s side were the most likely targets for Wenger’s rant, given that their 4-0 mullering by Liverpool did more than any other result to hinder Arsenal’s late run for the top four.
But there has been a troubling tendency for West Ham to switch off throughout this campaign — not just since they have secured safety and mentally headed towards the footballers’ paradise of 12-star, culture-free luxury in Dubai.
Southampton at least had the good grace to take the EFL Cup seriously and might easily have won an epic final against Manchester United.
But Claude Puel’s future wouldn’t be in such serious doubt had his team’s league performances not regressed.
Bournemouth may be the league’s easy-on-the-eye, feelgood overachievers — yet even Eddie Howe’s side tossed off the FA Cup by making 11 changes in their third-round defeat at Millwall rather than going for glory.
And last summer, Crystal Palace were narrowly-beaten Cup finalists, well-stocked with some expensive, top-class players and ambitiously bidding £30million for strikers.
Yet they were shocking under Alan Pardew and not a million miles better under Sam Allardyce.
Of course, not everyone in a league can succeed — and if Stoke, for instance, had threatened the top four, it wouldn’t have made West Ham’s season any better.
But collectively, the Prem’s non-elite truly have been a miserable bunch, with too many managers lacking ambition and too many comfort-zone players lacking desire.
Even if a title winner from outside the top six was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, Leicester’s miracle still should have inspired others to believe that challenging for the top four was a genuine target.
Some of us optimistically believed that, after the glorious mayhem of 2015-16, they wouldn’t be able to press a reset button and see the Premier League go back to predictable normality.
Depressingly, we were wrong.
And, like a stopped clock twice a day, Wenger was telling it right.
A S-LAP IN THE FACE
WHEN exactly did end-of- season ‘laps of appreciation’ become compulsory?
Did Stoke need one after their 4-1 defeat by Arsenal?
Did West Ham have to troop round a 90-per-cent-empty Olympic Stadium (and it’s not *the* London Stadium, it’s *a* London stadium) after their 4-0 tonking by Liverpool?
As we proved following the 0-0 dead-rubber draw with Costa Rica at the last World Cup, there’s one thing English football leads the world at — fans and players applauding each other to commemorate crushing failure.
TOTTENHAM’S move to a new stadium is both necessary and inevitable.
Yet football-wise it has arrived at precisely the wrong time.
Spurs won 17 and drew two of 19 league games at White Hart Lane this term and finished with 17 straight wins in all competitions at their spiritual home.
Had they still been at the Lane next season, I’d tip Mauricio Pochettino’s outstanding young team to win the title.
At Wembley, I can’t see them making the top four.
SO Tottenham will make a 12,000-mile round trip to Hong Kong and Liverpool will travel 21,000 miles to Sydney and back for post-season friendlies.
Next season these clubs will be telling you again how congested the fixture list is and how burnt out their poor little lambkin players are.
When they do so, remember how they flew their exhausted stars to the ends of the Earth for a few extra quid, despite living in the age of £5billion TV deals.
KP RIGHT OVER BEN
FOR all his faults, Kevin Pietersen is an excellent and outspoken TV pundit.
While he never needed much excuse to slate his former ECB bosses, Pietersen was absolutely right to decry the ‘pathetic shambles’ of Ben Stokes being dragged home before the Indian Premier League play-offs — just so he can attend an England training ‘boot camp’.
Come the revolution, enforced bonding sessions will be banned from every workplace.
Until then, keep up the good work, KP.
TOUCH OF CLASS
POUND for pound, the best two managerial achievements of the season were Paul Clement keeping Swansea up and Danny Cowley leading Lincoln City to the FA Cup quarters as well as promotion to the Football League.
Neither Clement nor Cowley were professional footballers — both are former PE teachers.
If we wonder why English bosses often lag behind foreign counterparts, it is because we rarely look beyond a group of inward-looking ex-pros and ignore the wider talent pool.
MAC CRACKS ME UP
THERE are some excellent commentators on BBC Radio 5 Live. But enough of them, how about Conor McNamara?
During his West Ham v Liverpool commentary on Sunday, McNamara demanded that all transfer gossip should be banned — then, without drawing breath, started discussing speculation linking Daniel Sturridge to the Hammers.
Oh to be a state-funded broadcaster, able to go through an entire career without breaking a news story while sneering at others who do.