Frank Lampard
Chelsea's Frank Lampard leaves the pitch at the end of their Champions League last 16 first leg match against Napoli at the San Paolo stadium in Naples.

The Premier League is in crisis, exclamation mark, raised eyebrow. Should Arsenal and Chelsea fail to overturn first-leg deficits against AC Milan and Napoli respectively; English football will not have a representative in the quarter-finals for the first time since the European Cup became the Champions League in 1996. Sixteen long years of glorious success for English sides, during which Premier League clubs have reached the final on eight occasions, claiming the trophy three times.

But, with Arsenal and Chelsea on the brink of elimination, could this latest round of results signal a wider change in fortunes for the Premier League's top sides? With Manchester City and Manchester United both crashing out at the group stage, Europe has not seen such a dire performance by an English cohort since 1995, when Blackburn were the only representatives.

Manchester United alone have reached three of the past four finals, winning one and losing two, to Barcelona. But this season, Sir Alex Ferguson's side came up short against both Basel and Benfica, hardly Europe's elite. There is a strong case for those claiming that the quality of the Premier League has gone backwards in recent years.

However, delve below the surface and the current landscape is not as bleak as many commentators have been speculating. All four Premier League sides are in a state of flux and can be expected to return to Europe stronger and better equipped next time around.

Manchester United's failure will be most troubling for Ferguson but the current squad has the look of a side in transition.

Scholes' retirement and the unfortunate absence of Darren Fletcher aside, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones have demonstrated their latent promise; while Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling continue to show encouraging signs of development.

Coupled to which, two humiliations at the hands of Barcelona in the 2009 and 2011 finals should not be underestimated. United's travails this season could almost be seen as a blessing in disguise with Barcelona once again looking strong.

Manchester City, in their first season in Europe's top flight, could hardly have been expected to fare better than they did, particularly when drawn in this season's 'Group of Death' alongside Villarreal, Bayern Munich, and surprise package Napoli. Roberto Mancini's side will return stronger next season, particularly if they claim the Premier League title, and will surely be considered strong contenders after another summer of rebuilding.

Arsenal and Chelsea are, undoubtedly, in decline but, with both sides struggling to qualify for next season's competition, the duo hardly represent an accurate snapshot of the current state of the Premier League.

Arsene Wenger's side remain in a state of flux following the departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri last summer. The pair, alongside Robin van Persie, were the driving forces behind Arsenal's qualification for the Champions League last season and their departures should be factored into any discussion of the Gunners' limp display against AC Milan last week.

Whether the club rebuild further in the summer will depend on securing fourth spot in the Premier League this season but the sale of Robin van Persie would allow Wenger, should he remain, to fund an extensive spending spree.

For Chelsea, the situation is different but altogether more troubling for Roman Abramovich. In the cauldron of Napoli's Stadio San Paolo a club who lavished £30m on changing their manager from Carlo Ancelotti to Andre Villas-Boas; and who spent £70m on two players (Fernando Torres and David Luiz) who are mere luxury items, stumbled to a damaging 3-1 defeat.

It would be foolish to suggest that Abramovich might cast aside his expensively procured manager mere months into his tenure. But head and heart have always been closely entwined during the Russian's tenure and the Portuguese may be tempted to jump before he is pushed should Chelsea fall short of fourth place at the end of the season.

Although it is hard to see Chelsea and Arsenal improving significantly in Europe next season, Tottenham's buoyant league form will mean few European sides will fancy taking on Harry Redknapp's side. Coupled to United and City's continued improvement there remains plenty of scope for English sides to return to Europe next season with a bang.