26 April ~ Radio Five Live commentator Alan Green rarely misses an opportunity to have a moan. Sure enough, after James Milner converted a controversial late penalty to give Aston Villa victory over city rivals Birmingham City, Green seized the moment to describe yesterday's derby as a "poor quality game in a poor quality season".
Green's justification for his comments would likely surround the relative lack of strength of the Big Four compared to previous seasons. Manchester United are brilliant with Wayne Rooney, but one-dimensional and toothless without him. Arsenal's lack of bottle and a goalkeeper who can catch has been painfully exposed in recent weeks, while Rafa Benítez has been unable to cover up the overall mediocrity in Liverpool's squad as well as in previous seasons. Chelsea, meanwhile, have lurched from being brilliant one week to awful the next.
However, to describe a season as poor based on four teams is short-sighted to say the least. The weaknesses of the top-four clubs, coupled with the improvement of Spurs, Villa and Manchester City, means we are in for one of the most exciting conclusions to a Premier League season in recent years. The title race between Man Utd and Chelsea is set to go the last day, while the Big Four party is likely to be gatecrashed for the first time since 2004-05, when Everton beat their Merseyside rivals to fourth, a position they may well have achieved again this season had they performed as well in the first half of the season as they have in the second half.
The Premier League now has eight excellent teams, all of whom are capable of beating the other, and this increased competition can only be good for the game. Clearly Green would prefer a similar situation to the one in Scotland, where Rangers and Celtic have once again finished as the top two sides and remain desperate to be invited to move to England.
Many pundits pointed to the demise of Man Utd and Arsenal in the Champions League quarter-finals as a sign of the Premier League's decline, conveniently forgetting that there is still the possibility of an all-English Europa League final. The depth of quality in the Premier League is greater than ever before. This is likely to improve next year with Man City poised to spend big money in a bid to challenge for the title and many other clubs set to strengthen in order to keep pace at the top. If the old Big Four's sense of entitlement continues to be undermined that can only be a good thing. Neal Widdows