Arsenal's players react after the oppening goal from FC Porto's Bruno Alves (not seen) during their Group G Champions League soccer match at the Dragao stadium in Porto, Portugal, Wednesday Dec. 10, 2008. AP Photo/Paulo Duarte

There can only be one word to describe Arsenal’s season – inconsistent. The draw at home to Liverpool means the Gunners have taken points from each of its fellow big four teams, but lost to the likes of Stoke and Hull, leaving them fifth and at risk of dropping from the crucial top four.

Arsenal, along with Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, have made a habit of finishing in the top four in the Premier League era, qualifying for the UEFA Champions League, collecting the millions generated by the competition and sharing the EPL crown amongst themselves (with the exclusion of Liverpool) since Blackburn lifted the title in 1995.

As a result, they could invest and attract the best players, keep winning at home and in Europe, and so the cycle continued as the gulf between the best and the rest widened.

However, Arsenal’s place in the four is currently under threat from Aston Villa – a team that seems to be defying the recent trend of success in the EPL with a talented young squad of mostly locals without a recognised superstar.

They may not have the huge financial reserves to permanently threaten the big four but should they continue their winning form, they could severely dent one of the big fours’ fortunes this season.

The injection of funds from its American owner was spent wisely, adding talented players who contributed to the team unit and depth.

Villa plays and acts like a team in unison, unlike the other perceived long-term threat to the big four, the richest club in the world, Manchester City, who unbelievably lie in the relegation zone.

City must spend big and wisely in the January transfer window to avoid the drop after a dismal run of form. They should also look to Aston Villa as a template on how to build a team.

Whether it’s Villa, City or another, threats to the big four are desperately needed for the sake of the English game.

The rise and domination of the big four has been a poisoned chalice for the English Premier League.

The big four have helped spread the EPL gospel through the Middle East, Asia and the world, their superstars are global household names. They are four marketing brands, as well as football clubs.

They also deliver some great football, especially when playing each other.

The Arsenal V Liverpool game was a testament to this – an intense affair that showcased world-class talent.

But for the sake of competition and the long–term survival of the other teams and the competition itself, the EPL needs new blood competing up the front on a regular basis.

The difficulty in doing this for the other clubs cannot be underestimated, especially in regard to finances.

And qualification to the Champions League is no guarantee of achieving financial success. Remember Leeds United?

This season has seen a wider variety of teams taking points away from the big four, and with further investment in other clubs, we may be seeing the beginning of the end for the big fours’ exclusive rule.

On Boxing Day, Arsenal travel to Aston Villa – a game that hopefully delivers just as great a spectacle as the last time the sides met and will tell us a lot about the prospects of Villa’s threat to Arsenal.

It will be fascinating to see which team, if any, can break up the big four. But one thing’s clear, money isn’t the sole answer to how this can be done.

Just look at the contrasting fortunes of Aston Villa and Manchester City.

Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.
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