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Mar 14, 2013

Wenger: English exits a 'wake-up call'

Arsene Wenger has admitted the Premier League is no longer at the forefront of European football after Arsenal were the last English side to be bundled out of this season's Champions League.

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Arsenal completed their round of 16 tie with Bayern level 3-3 on aggregate but their 2-0 win in Germany was not enough to secure their passage into the quarter-finals as they joined Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea as Premier League casualties in Europe this season.

It will be the first time since the 1995-96 season that no English sides are represented beyond the round of 16 and Wenger believes it is no coincidence that the Premier League has been overpowered in the Champions League.

"It's a massive disappointment for English football," he said. "For a number of years we've not had that. I think it's a massive wake-up call for us. It means the rest of Europe has caught up on us. We have to take that into consideration when we think about the future of the Premier League."

Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes shared Wenger's view, insisting the Premier League has only been placed on a pedestal in England, not the rest of Europe.

"The gap between the Bundesliga and the (English) Premier League is not as big as it has been made out," he said. "The English teams had an unlucky draw, with Manchester United against Real Madrid and Arsenal with us. Arsenal will be back again."

Despite pre-match claims that Wenger had already conceded his side's chances of qualification, the Frenchman insists Arsenal were confident of progressing until the final whistle.

"Of course I'm very proud of the performance of the team," he said. "I think there was room to score (a third goal) and when you look at the game. Tonight you have many regrets about our first game.

"I believe that it was very feasible to knock Bayern out. We got the belief of that when we watched the (first) game again, we had a plan that we respected tonight, it went a bit fast on some occasions, but overall I felt that we had the quality to be there."

Gunners captain Thomas Vermaelen was rested for the match as Kieran Gibbs returned from injury and Lukasz Fabianski replaced Wojciech Szczesny in a number of changes for Arsenal.

Wenger remains uncertain whether Vermaelen will return to the starting line-up for Arsenal's match against Swansea on Saturday, insisting he has the luxury of rotating his defenders.

"I don't want to explain too much," he said. "It's possible yes, I don't know yet. We may rotate a bit at the back and in the midfield as well. We have players like Abou Diaby back so we can rotate a little bit."

Former England international Gary Neville has denied there is any serious concern for Premier League clubs, citing Chelsea's win last season and Liverpool's 2005 glory as prime examples.

"We are not in a strong moment. There is no point denying it," Neville said. "From 2005 to 2012 we had eight or nine finalists, which is a ridiculous success rate when you include semi-finals as well.

"But Barcelona and Real Madrid are stronger, the German teams are stronger, Juventus look like they are getting back to it. It works in cycles. You cannot always be at the top. Maybe we are having a period where we are in a little bit of a dip. But it may change around completely next year or the year after."

Information from the Press Association was used in this report.

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