Physical demands take toll in Europe

Ljungberg also feels English teams should take a winter break, like rest of the continent

As English football seeks to recover from one of its greatest humiliations at Euro 2016, Arsenal legend Freddie Ljungberg insists that the Premier League remains the best league in the world.

Iceland recorded a shock 2-1 win over England in the last 16 of the continental showpiece last month, giving critics more reason to argue that the Premier League has lost its top billing.

English sides had already been struggling in the Champions League in recent seasons. The last four campaigns have seen English clubs produce just two semi-finalists. Tellingly, there were twice as many exits in the group stages in that period.

But Ljungberg argued that the sheer competitiveness of the Premier League - reputedly the most physical league in the world - makes it harder for the teams to excel in Europe's elite club competition.

"You have tough games all the time and it takes a lot out of you physically," he told The Straits Times in an interview arranged by Destination NSW and Arsenal Football Club. "I don't think that's often accounted for."

While the big guns in the Spanish Primera Liga are often untroubled by lowly opposition, trips to newly promoted Bournemouth were not taken for granted in the Premier League last season. Visits to Stoke City and West Ham also offered the potential for slip-ups.

BIGGER SQUADS WOULD COPE BETTER

You have tough games all the time (in the Premier League) and it takes a lot out of you physically. I don't think that's often accounted for.

FREDDIE LJUNGBERG, Arsenal legend, on the competitive nature of the league.

"You maybe play against a Peter Crouch (Stoke striker) on the weekend and you need a big centre-back. And next weekend you play against (Barcelona forward) Lionel Messi and you need a totally different centre-back for that," added Ljungberg, a Champions League runner-up with the Gunners in 2005-06.

"So in my opinion, in the Premier League you need bigger squads to deal with different players."

The two-time Premier League winner and three-time FA Cup champion also believes English teams are paying the price for the lack of a winter break.

While teams in the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and La Liga rest for weeks, the Christmas period represents the most intense part of the English football season.

On the upside, the Premier League offers season-long entertainment.

"You can watch two mid-table teams play and there's a good tempo to the game," said Ljungberg during his visit to New South Wales to promote next year's Arsenal in Sydney Tour.

"It's enjoyable and I think that's the quality of the league."

The competitive nature of England's top flight has also meant that the Gunners are without a Premier League title since Ljungberg and Co. lifted the trophy in 2004 after an unbeaten season.

Arsenal fell to a shock defeat at home to West Ham in their season opener last term and managed just three wins in their first six league games. Ljungberg said Arsene Wenger's men can ill afford another slow start if they want to end their league title drought.

"We have a good squad and a good foundation," said the 39-year-old. "We need to have a good start to the season, keep playing as a team as we always do and believe in Arsene and each other."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Physical demands take toll in Europe'. Print Edition | Subscribe