Chelsea finished the 2010-11 season as the second best club in England. Arsenal finished fourth. They're the first of the Big Three to be usurped by Manchester City. Liverpool's decline broke up the old Gang of Four. Carlo Ancelotti, who from this group acted with the most dignity and integrity, is now out of a job. Meanwhile, the man who squandered his resources and badly managed his players, Arsene Wenger, will be sticking around.
An old hand at being disingenuous, Wenger complained that his team had been unlucky to hit the woodwork so often. He was missing the point, perhaps on purpose. You might be unlucky if you have Didier Drogba or Wayne Rooney in a side creating a hatful of chances, only to see them spurned by inches, as they score plenty of the others.
You wouldn't be unlucky if you were entrusting those chances to Marouane Chamakh and Nicklas Bendtner. These are players who are not good enough. Bendtner was at his best at Birmingham. Marouane Chamakh wasn't a particularly impressive goalscorer when he was first choice at Bordeaux. Because Wenger is unwilling to find a reasonable understudy for the excellent Robin Van Persie, he is sabotaging his team.
Wenger acknowledges he has money in his pocket, he just doesn't feel it burning. His best player, Cesc Fabregas, will probably only play at full throttle in a team with a chance, rather than a team with potential. This isn't an argument about whether his style of play is effective, but whether Wenger is willing to find players to win a trophy with it.
Wenger has taken a philosophical standpoint to the edge of becoming a psychological handicap. His refrain is financial prudence, but that prudence is now stubbornness. It's not that he can't spend money because there isn't any, it's that he won't spend money so he can prove a point. Wenger talks about winning trophies as if it is gauche, unnecessary.
At the season's start, Arsenal steadied matters at the back with Laurent Koscielny, a skinny centre half with one year's experience in the top flight of French football. Sebastian Squillaci, an established mediocrity, got his day in the sun. Wenger got his hands on Chamakh and proved that even a player that costs nothing might not be value for money.
While Wenger continues to assert his self-imposed handicap, Ancelotti stoically dealt with those placed upon him. Chelsea performed admirably last season to win the league and cup double, but this was a squad in need of renewal. Michael Ballack, Juliano Belletti, Ricardo Carvalho and Joe Cole all left. Such exits could only be balanced with sufficient replacements. Ramires arrived, and struggled as you would expect a player to in his first season in a new country. He was joined by Yossi Benayoun, a bit-part player at the inferior Liverpool who was soon plagued by an Achilles injury.
Ancelotti had been asked to achieve the same success, at least, with a lesser squad. Younger players were promoted into a side that had leaders like John Terry and Frank Lampard, but no bridge of players in their twenties to form the next assertive generation.
Ancelotti did not complain, or pontificate that by relying on youth he had a moral superiority, but instead he insisted he had a strong squad, and supported claims that he was expecting to challenge for the title. Having managed for Silvio Berlusconi at AC Milan for eight years, he clearly understands the value of showing loyalty to the owner, at least outwardly.
His confidence paid off as his players hit the ground running, annihilating teams and looking ominously relentless in a way the league had not seen since Jose Mourinho was at his most effective. Inevitably though, injuries took out his older players, Lampard suffering his first signs of old age, and Drogba battling against malaria (now that's bad luck). Instead of promoting a sixteen-year-old Spanish lightweight to counter, he convinced Abramovich to strengthen.
David Luiz is an odd player, he started well but later began to look calamitous. A midfielder at centre back, his purchase is one to benefit Chelsea in the long run. If he starts to read the Premier League as well as he plays with the ball at his feet, Chelsea have a strong and imposing defender. Remember the iffy starts of Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United? Both arrived in winter and struggled, but the two of them had a six-month headstart to become acclimatised to the demands of their first full season.
His other reinforcement? An obstacle in the shape of Fernando Torres. A player not suited to playing with Didier Drogba or Nicolas Anelka, possibly not any Chelsea player, he disrupted the tactics for the whole side. He demanded a severe restructuring. He was also a player who had turned up to work for the past 18 months in a lethargic funk, and showed no sign of getting out of it. The suspicion remained that he was a player foisted upon Ancelotti, rather than one signed at his behest. Yet the Italian did not complain. Torres got his games, and now looks on his way to some kind of rehabilitation. His presence even shook Drogba out of his malarial fog.
Eventually, Ancelotti got his side playing with a persistence that took the Blues up to second, pushing Manchester United far closer to the wire than most predicted in March.
While Arsene Wenger has remained in complete control of his Arsenal, he has taken the one-time 'Invincibles' and made them brittle with his choices alone. No imposing keeper, no decent centre-back pairing, and just one decent striker. This is not rocket science, so being 'Le Professeur' would seem overkill. Ancelotti made the best out of what he had, and that's why he's the superior manager. That he is the one getting the boot while we get another round of Wenger would seem grossly unfair.