Arteta no longer 10th best manager in Premier League after much-needed rankings update

Dave Tickner
Aston Villa's Unai Emery tops our 2023/24 Premier League manager rankings.
Unai Emery tops our 2023/24 Premier League manager rankings.

It’s only been a month since we last did the Premier League manager rankings, but we had David Moyes above Mikel Arteta then so it’s definitely time for a bit of a revision. Also, thanks to Crystal Palace we’ve got not one but two new entries in a list that is still going to come up painfully short against last season’s heroic 40-man effort.

January’s manager rankings are here and in brackets below to make it even easier for you to laugh at how silly they were.


24) Vincent Kompany, Burnley (20)
Going tits up, isn’t it? Didn’t expect it, did we? Probably, though…maybe we should have a little bit? Teams that play their way out of the Championship and into the Premier League with flowing, possession-based football are likely to be the ones in line for a culture shock when they get a taste of the Barclays, and doing all that under a rookie manager should have sounded more alarm bells than it did.

The widespread delusion – of which we must admit to being an enthusiastic contributor – was that Kompany knew Our League and thus Burnley would be fine. But he had no managerial experience of the Premier League and – this bit has turned out to be absolutely crucial – none of his extensive and impressive playing experience was in the relevant area of Barclays for a newly promoted team that likes to play its football The Right Way.

A team that rinsed the Championship sits five points from safety. Unlike their fellow promoted sides who currently make up the bottom three, Burnley were the ones for whom it wasn’t meant to be like this. Burnley are the ones who were meant to be better. And it all puts Kompany under serious pressure if he can’t crack the code soon.

We wrote all that in November. Reiterated it in January. And every word of that still applies, except the last bit now has far greater urgency. If Burnley do stick with him, it’s entirely because they’re confident he can get them back out of the Championship once again next season. It certainly can’t be because they think he can keep them in the Premier League this season.


23) Paul Heckingbottom, Sheffield United – August-December (16)
As late as November we were still willing to place plenty of stock in unfortunate narrow defeats to your Tottenhams, Citys and Uniteds than the thrashings against the Newcastles and Arsenals Of This World, but this was shown to be a wildly optimistic daftness by the unforgivable unpleasantness against Burnley, a result from which there really was no way back for Heckingbottom.

Especially given the presence of Chris Wilder by that point lurking not so much in the shadows as in the full glare of multiple spotlights and a big flashing neon sign saying THIS FELLA WANTS YOUR JOB with all arrows pointing at him.


22) Steve Cooper, Nottingham Forest (19)
We still had him crazy high on the list as recently as November, barely a month before he was quite correctly if still upsettingly removed. What we like best about our November verdict beyond its air of general misplaced optimism is how close we came to getting it exactly right before getting it completely wrong. Look…

What’s good about Forest is that unlike some of the other clubs in the cavernous mid-table, it does retain an air of jeopardy. At Forest it really does feel like it could all fall apart and they could go 20 games without a win or something. They won’t, though. Because Cooper.

Ah! Well. Nevertheless, etc. Had to go because the life had gone alarmingly from Cooper’s side, and Nuno Espirito Santo did at the very, very least get a dead cat bounce out of them. Still all seems a bit of a shame, but the fans still love him and always will for bringing back some joy and having a rock-solid place in the managerial pantheon of a Brian Clough club isn’t a bad old legacy.


21) Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace – August-February (14)
It’s a cruel shame to see health issues force him out of his beloved position in the Selhurst Park dug-out, but we don’t think we’re being complete bastards in noting it’s a change that Palace really should have been making for purely footballing reasons anyway. Twenty-four points from 24 games with only 28 goals scored is a pretty miserable return for a team that on paper possesses some of the most beguiling attacking talent outside the gilded elite.

Hodgson’s Palace had once again become a beacon of nothingness, on course to once again survive in the Premier League but without truly existing. He will always have a special place in Palace hearts, and this time last year they really did need saving from themselves. He put them back on an even keel and has left some kind of platform on which his successor can build. But one way or another it was building work Hodgson himself was never going to complete.


20) David Moyes, West Ham (5)
Fifth, you say? Interesting. Interesting and wrong. In fairness, January was ages ago and at that point David Moyes’ West Ham were in the top six, had just beaten Arsenal and looking forward to the return of European football. They are no longer in the top six, have just been thrashed by Arsenal and are dreading the return of European football because it’s just more games and currently that just means more opportunities for conspicuous bed-sh*tting.

Moyes has tested the fans’ patience and no longer has results or performances to justify subjecting them to further Moyesball misery. As Johnny Nic puts it: ‘Don’t be careful what you wish for. Wish for better.’

And ‘better’ than going out of the FA Cup to Bristol City, drawing with Sheffield United and losing to Manchester United, Arsenal and Nottingham Forest by a combined aggregate of 11-0 is not hard to imagine. It’s actually hard to picture how you come up with something worse. Moyes’ survival has leant heavily on the ‘careful what you wish for’ narrative, but it’s one that itself relies on not making things so very, very bad that ‘it might get even worse’ becomes almost impossible to say with a straight face.


19) Chris Wilder, Sheffield United – December onwards (15)
Sheffield United have been better under Wilder than they were under Heckingbottom. But better is not the same thing as good. They’re still very bad, and they’re still going to get relegated. Wilder was always their Plan B, and the only reason not to have a Plan C is because it’s almost certainly futile anyway.

Becoming the first and still only team to win by more than a single goal at Luton – something none of Tottenham, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester City, Newcastle, Chelsea or Manchester United could manage – was undeniably funny, but given it doesn’t really shift the needle on their own survival hopes all it really did was to make the overall relegation picture less interesting than it might otherwise have been. Cheers for that, lads.

Wilder’s team have also conceded five goals in each of their last two Premier League home games (three home games in a row if you count the FA Cup) and their next game at Bramall Lane is against Arsenal so, you know, good luck with that.


18) Paddy McCarthy, Crystal Palace – February (NE)
A 1-1 draw at Everton is definitely better than a 4-1 defeat at Arsenal. His next caretaker stint in charge of Palace will surely be a win. Mainly, though, we’re just excited that McCarthy’s latest one-game reign to bookend Roy Hodgson’s return meant we didn’t suffer the unpleasantness of going an entire season without a single caretaker manager taking charge of a game. That would never do.


17) Eddie Howe, Newcastle (18)
Results have picked up since a slightly unfortunate loss to Man City made it four Premier League defeats in a row. But Newcastle remain maddeningly inconsistent and crucially Howe has been entirely unable to replicate the defensive stability and solidity that laid the foundations for last season’s Champions League qualification.

Newcastle have already conceded eight more Premier League goals than in the whole of last season, and it says a great deal that ‘improved results’ still leaves room for chaotic high-scoring home draws against both Luton and Bournemouth.

The summer’s ‘It’s a big seven now’ talk seems to have been almost entirely memory-holed by everyone, with Newcastle and Howe being frankly enormously fortunate not to face greater scrutiny for such a disappointing follow-up to last season’s excellence. “We couldn’t spend as much of that lovely, lovely money as we wanted because the Premier League are mean” remains a pretty p*ss-weak excuse, especially as a large chunk of what they did spend was so carelessly spaffed on Sandro Tonali without due diligence.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from the largely sympathetic media coverage they still get, but it really does need the FA Cup to ride to the rescue now for a season that started with such enormous promise, excitement and expectation.


16) Sean Dyche, Everton (9)
Just a very, very weird season for Dyche and the lads. The riotous four-game f*** you to the Premier League in which their 10-point punishment was wiped out and then some was the culmination of a run that included eight wins and a draw in 12 games and suggested that even with that punishment relegation was nothing more than a theoretical danger.

And yet since achieving the catharsis of wiping out the points deficit they’ve failed to win any of eight subsequent games and remain in very real and present relegation bother even without the added threat of further sanctions hanging over them.

What Dyche needs to find is a way of harnessing that energy that swept through the place after the points penalty but without actually having to suffer a points penalty, because that is a pretty unsustainable strategy really.


15) Thomas Frank, Brentford (17)
The return of Saint Ivan Toney has helped, albeit with the impact lessened slightly by three of his first five – soon to be four of first six – games back coming against Manchester City, Spurs and Liverpool. Brentford did win the other two against Nottingham Forest and most impressively at Wolves to at least allow the relegation fears that had bubbled up during a bleak midwinter to recede slightly.

In fairness to Frank, his team had endured a similar barren run at a similar time in their first Premier League season. The January arrival of Christian Eriksen turned the tide then, and it’s perfectly reasonably to imagine the return of Toney – at least once the fixture list difficulty curve flattens out a bit – might have a similar galvanising effect.

Still very obviously a very good manager doing a pretty decent job at a club where Premier League football has been pretty swiftly normalised, but equally no doubt that this season has seen a layer of gloss removed. He’s not being talked about quite so readily for those potential big jobs down the line as he was this time last year.


14) Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea (20)
Finally, Chelsea are starting to look a little bit more like a proper Mauricio Pochettino team. That’s a huge development, because until the last few weeks it really has looked like a collection of very expensively-assembled footballers being chucked out on to the pitch by a manager who didn’t himself truly believe he had a great deal of influence over what happened next.

The FA Cup win at Villa just might end up being a proper sliding doors moment for club and manager, but it was really the second-half performance at Crystal Palace that left us truly believing this might all work out.

The bars Pochettino and Chelsea are clearing remain very, very low. But they have started clearing them rather than tripping over them and having their trousers fall down. And while there have been decent results dotted throughout this difficult season, these most recent ones – including the draw at Manchester City – are the first that truly feel like they might be the start of something real rather than just the inevitable bouts of occasional competence a group of talented players will sometimes produce.


13) Oliver Glasner, Crystal Palace – February onwards (NE)
Palace have clearly decided on a policy of making exciting and eye-catching appointments and boring, familiar, predictable ones in turn. We like this policy, where every new appointment is a direct response to the previous guy.

Glasner is a bit of a coup for Palace. It’s really not that long ago he was steering Eintracht Frankfurt into the Champions League and to Europa League glory. He was in our top 10 available managers before taking the Palace job. We’re excited to see what he does with the likes of Michael Olise and Eberechi Eze even if his window to work with those specific players might be tantalisingly brief. Obviously his ranking is at this stage largely meaningless given he has yet to take charge of a single game. To that we say this: all of these rankings are meaningless.


12) Andoni Iraola, Bournemouth (6)
A terrible start, a brilliant middle, and now a reversion to the mean. Overall, it’s… pretty decent? Somehow, Iraola is without a Premier League win since Boxing Day, which seems mental. They’re not playing that badly, and recent draws at West Ham and Newcastle can’t really go down as huge disappointments.

Really could do with getting back to winning ways quite soon, though, and their next match is against <checks notes> Manchester City. Ah.

It really is a funny old campaign when you look at it from a distance. A nine-match winless run to start things off, a current six-match winless run that will in all likelihood soon stand at seven, and in between those a run of seven wins in nine matches. Silly. But we like silly.


11) Nuno Espirito Santo, Nottingham Forest – December onwards (12)
‘The bounce has duly been achieved; next task to prove it is more than that of a dead cat’ was January’s verdict. And it was all starting to look alarmingly dead cattish until a broken, battered and bruised West Ham turned up last weekend unable to muster any kind of resistance after having what was left of their spirit so thoroughly destroyed by Arsenal.

It was a necessary win for both club and manager, because the successes against Newcastle and Manchester United that gave Nuno his bounce were already starting to look quite a long time ago.

Nuno’s side were as lucky to run into the Hammers when they did as they were unlucky to draw the short straw of going to Brentford for the weird deification of the returning Ivan Toney. But the potential importance of that West Ham win in keeping wolves from doors is highlighted by a brutal set of fixtures heading into next month’s international break.

Forest have made enormously heavy work of a kindly FA Cup draw to reach a fifth-round tie with resurgent Manchester United, a game which now sits unhelpfully between daunting Premier League tasks against Aston Villa and Liverpool. Brighton come next, which is only a tiny bit easier, and a series of entirely understandable, even predictable, results in those four games are going to turn the Luton away game that follows into a very big deal indeed.


10) Erik Ten Hag, Manchester United (21)
Four straight Premier League wins is definitely better than what’s gone before. Four straight wins still represents a flattering return, and the eventual wins at Wolves and Luton could not fully – or even really all that much at all – mask just how thick a team they remain perplexingly capable of being even when things are apparently going well.

It’s also undeniably true that while much can be said about United’s improvement in this or that, it all also boils down to Rasmus Hojlund now scoring all the goals instead of none of the goals. Flanking him with Marcus Rashford and Alejandro Garnacho with Bruno Fernandes behind is clearly working but is also quite an obvious thing to do. How much credit Ten Hag gets for having an in-form striker is up for significant debate. But we also kicked him really quite hard when he didn’t have an in-form striker so we probably do need to cut him some slack here.


9) Marco Silva, Fulham (13)
Fair play to Silva for quietly turning Fulham into a far more fun mid-table team than we were expecting them to be post-Mitrovic. They have that perfect mid-table quality of being able to follow brilliant performances with terrible ones, of being a team perfectly capable of winning 5-0 and losing 5-0 in the space of a week, of taking four points off Arsenal (having trailed in both games) and losing 3-0 at home to Brentford.

Whether this is a great look for a manager we’re not so sure. But what we do know now is that Marco Silva knows our league and has, on the quiet, delivered one of the season’s more unexpectedly entertaining and interesting teams.


8) Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton (11)
We’re cross with ourselves for how harsh this sounds, but we cannot help being ever so slightly disappointed with Brighton and De Zerbi this year. They’ve been fine – and on occasion far better than that – but is it completely unreasonable that we wanted more?

Have they really kicked on at all from last year? The top six suddenly looks quite a long way away, and it’s suddenly Newcastle and even Chelsea below them they need to worry about. Let’s be honest, the very existence of the phrase ‘Newcastle and even Chelsea below them’ highlights just how unfair we’re being on De Zerbi here – especially when you factor in their excellent and continued effort in Europe compared to Newcastle (crashed out of CL group stage) and Chelsea (not even involved).

This is really entirely on us and unreasonable expectation because by any sensible measure this is another fine season for team and manager, but we can’t shake that tinge of disappointment that it isn’t something more. Maybe they’ll win the Europa League and give us a mugging-off that, quite frankly, we fully deserve.


7) Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham (3)
Just a few worrying signs of the sheen coming off Postecoglou and his football and his team.

It really has been quite a long time since they’ve produced a decent complete performance. The 4-1 win over Newcastle maybe? It probably is. That game was well over two months ago now.

We might be wrong, but we get a sense that Spurs rather complacently felt that getting the band back together would automatically make it the autumn again with performances and results to match. Results had, until last weekend’s limp surrender against Wolves, been okay. But that was a defeat that any Spurs fan could tell you had been coming after a run of unconvincing home wins against Everton, Bournemouth, Brentford and Brighton.

The football just isn’t anywhere near as fun as it was. Against Wolves, dare we say it, it was almost Conte-like. James Maddison has returned from injury nothing like the player who was probably the standout in the entire division before limping off on that fateful night against Chelsea.

Spurs remain bafflingly on course to become only the second team in Barclays history to score in every game of a season, but the football comes only in patches now rather than irresistible waves. The 10 minutes after half-time against Brentford were a reminder of what they can do to anyone when it all clicks, but for the most part the last month has been spent waiting for a click that never really comes.

Most worrying of all, though, was the aftermath of the Wolves game. Postecoglou’s “I’m not a magician, mate” was just the first slight glimpse of a manager reaching the inevitable point in the Spurs managerial lifecycle of growing sick with the players at his disposal. While that moment is inevitable, it has come far earlier than anyone could have predicted back in the autumn.

It’s not all doom and gloom and nothing is f***ed. Postecoglou is still in his first season and deserves far more patience than we’re affording here. The season as a whole still represents positive and definitive progress. But still, Postecoglou and his team are either in the midst of an extended funk that needs snapping out of quick smart, or they’ve been worked out. If it’s the latter, they’re in trouble.


6) Rob Edwards, Luton (8)
Genuine manager of the year contender if he pulls off survival for a club pretty much everyone wrote off before a ball was kicked, with Derby’s record and their away end entrance more frequent pre-season talking points than the chance of actual survival.

Edwards should arguably be even higher here given the overachievement that even being in a genuine relegation fight represents, and he would have been were it not for that painful and irritating home defeat against Sheffield United when they had a genuine chance to open a bit of a gap on the three below them at that stage. Now back in the bottom three on goal difference, and a season that has been marked by famously valiant if largely futile Kenilworth Road efforts against the big teams now likely to be defined by what they can do in home games against the rest.

They’ve got upcoming games against Liverpool away and Villa at home where anything would be a bonus, but after that it all gets very significant very quickly with a pre-interlull run of Palace, Bournemouth, Forest. We’re already pretty interested to see where Edwards is on this list and his team on the table when it comes to update this feature then, which we definitely will because we’ve got to do something to keep ourselves busy in international breaks and writing 5000 words about managers is just the thing.


5) Gary O’Neil, Wolves (4)
In November, we said this:

We were wrong about Wolves and wrong about O’Neil. It takes a big man to admit when he’s wrong. That, or someone who is absolutely bang to rights and has absolutely nowhere to go. Thought they’d be dreadful, thought he’d taken a hospital pass in taking over when Julen Lopetegui huffed off on New Season’s Eve but O’Neil has Wolves cosily in mid-table.

More important than any of that, O’Neil has also joined the all-important club of current Premier League managers who have Spoke Well, I Thought on Monday Night Football. He’s in the gang now, the ranging party for the next generation of British firefighter managers to be brought in whenever Jonny Foreigner can’t handle the Barclays heat.

It’s nice when two months later we can just nod along to our own words and go, yeah, same. Rather than the more usual reaction of cringing out a lung while thinking what an irredeemable f***ing idiot we were two months ago and – most importantly – learning absolutely no lessons from that. Note how even when we’re right, we still have to start with the words ‘We were wrong…’

Among the many ticks against his name this season, perhaps the most significant is the double over Spurs. The 2-1 home win was secured only in a riotous bout of injury-time nonsense but was every bit as deserved as the recent 2-1 win at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Few teams and managers have done a better job of so thoroughly quelling Angeball.

But it would be wrong to categorise O’Neil’s Wolves as mere spoilers. He has taken what has for a long time now been a determinedly goal-shy team and made them the leading scorers in the bottom half of the table. They’ve outscored both Manchester United and West Ham this season, and are already eight goals clear of their own total for the whole of last season.


4) Pep Guardiola, Manchester City (7)
Can’t shake the notion that he’s once again trying to do this on hard mode just to make himself feel alive. Just letting players leave and not really replacing them. Deciding that Josko Gvardiol is a left-back. That kind of thing.

Obviously, spending a huge chunk of the season without first Kevin De Bruyne and then also Erling Haaland would pose a challenge to even the depth of City’s squad before it was left unnecessarily shallower than need be, but let’s not pretend that this is anything other than another fine effort from the pre-eminent manager of the age. The double-trouble remains firmly on the cards with City favourites for all three legs and still odds-on for the league despite dropping points against Chelsea.

Only with Manchester City could a draw against Chelsea after a 10-game winning run prompt ‘ARE CITY IN TROUBLE?’ headlines because only at City is anything other than relentless winning in the second half of the season a break from the norm.

All things being equal, this is still a title race that should only end one way and that is with Guardiola doing something no manager in this country has ever done before. Whatever advantages he may have had handed to him in this particular job, it’s still absurd.


3) Mikel Arteta, Arsenal (10)
Remember when their title bid collapsed in on itself completely between Christmas and New Year? Great times. Now the Celebration Police are back on full and constant alert as Arteta’s side roars back into life and right back into what is now definitively a three-team scrap for the big prize.

Arsenal are still the outsiders of three in that fight, and there really isn’t any number of goals you can put past West Ham and Burnley to change that. But what those wins, on the back of what was in its way a far more impressive stifling of Liverpool, have done is restore belief. That was something that carried Arsenal an awful long way last season and they are a dangerous team when their dander is up like this.

It’s taken a little while for Arteta to get his team playing with something like the same poise and precision as last season, but there is a very good case to be made that the football they’re playing right now exceeds anything they showed us in last season’s near miss. They are a better team now, under a better and more experienced manager. Last season’s disappointment should definitely help them avoid the same mistakes this time around, and even if they do as is likely come up short again, it’s unlikely the blows will be as self-inflicted as during last season’s collapse.

We can’t help wondering, though, just how many more goals they might have scored at West Ham and Burnley if they’d been switched on and focused instead of distracted and carried away by all that ghastly happiness at the end of the Liverpool game.


2) Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool (2)
So a month ago we said this.

They’ve sauntered through the Europa League group stage, have eyes on the Carabao final and have knocked Arsenal out of the FA Cup. It’s hard really to see how this season could have gone much better for Liverpool, given where it began and good processes notwithstanding.

And two weeks later, Klopp announced he was leaving at the end of the season. It was a bombshell and one that means the season can no longer be said to be going perfectly.

Because Klopp is, clearly, brilliant. What he has done at Liverpool over the last eight years tells you that, but what he’s done this year in particular as well.

This was meant to be a season of transition at Anfield, a necessary but Saudi-hastened midfield overhaul combined with an attack and defence still coming together themselves leaving Liverpool surely a touch short once again of the very best the division had to offer.

Not a bit of it. In a Premier League season where the overall standard in terms of depth is high it would be fair to say the standards right at the summit have dipped a bit from recent years. Peak Man City would not allow this Liverpool to be clear at the summit, surely. But that’s on them, not Klopp.

It got rather forgotten amid the very important celebration discourse, but Liverpool were disappointingly dreadful in a very big game at Arsenal. But that apart, they remain on course to deliver a memorable farewell to one of their greatest managers. Which at Liverpool is really saying something.

Xabi Alonso or whoever it is has a tough old act to follow.


1) Unai Emery, Aston Villa (1)
Just doing a brilliant job. Perhaps the most compelling part is how quickly he’s normalised Villa once again being this good. It’s true you don’t have to go all that far back into ancient Barclays folklore to find some very decent Villa teams, but it’s also true that they were quite sh*t for quite a long time since then and brought Emery in because Steven Gerrard was leading them directly and rapidly into a relegation battle. That, somehow, was only last season.

Now they’re in Europe which seems perfectly fine, and with almost two thirds of the season are sitting snugly in the top four without anyone thinking this particularly odd or even noteworthy any more.

It’s just a very good manager doing a very good job with what he has turned into a very good team. We should cherish it, really, because this sort of thing doesn’t happen all that often.

The concern on the horizon will inevitably be that Emery’s work at Villa means that he’s lurking near the top of a lot of Next [Club X] Manager markets. But Emery has experienced Big Six Premier League life already; he’d have to be a crazy person to swap what he has going on at Villa right now for the big chair at the madhouses of Chelsea, United or even Newcastle should such opportunity arise either now or in the summer.

And his previous experience of replacing a legacy manager at Arsenal might well put him off Liverpool even if he were the Spaniard they’re after, which he isn’t.