Guardiola and Arteta miss out on the big prize in our bumper end-of-season manager rankings

Dave Tickner
Premier LEague managers Emery, Arteta, Ten Hag and Klopp.
Premier LEague managers Emery, Arteta, Ten Hag and Klopp.

It’s the big one. Not as big as normal, because bafflingly few managers got binned off this season, but still pretty big: here is our final update of the 2023/24 Premier League manager rankings.

There was a clear winner for us and it wasn’t him. Or him. Definitely not him.

It’s only been a couple of months since the last update, but you’ll quickly realise it’s been a very, very long eight weeks in Barclays World. In the unlikely event you don’t want to scoop your eyes out with a rusty spoon after reading all this, you can read all of March’s wrongness here as well if you absolutely must.


24) Paul Heckingbottom, Sheffield United – August-December (24)
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.


23) Vincent Kompany, Burnley (23)
Went tits up, didn’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 dropped back with barely a fight. Unlike their fellow promoted sides who joined them in heading straight back whence they came, Burnley were the ones for whom it wasn’t meant to be like this. Burnley were the ones who were meant to be better.

What’s interesting, though, is that there was never any real appetite among Burnley fans for his removal. There was less surprise locally than nationally at their struggles, with the ‘promoted a year early’ narrative in full swing along with its close cousin ‘best man to get us back up again’.

Bit of retrofitting going on with the former, for us, but the second part seems fair enough given how 2022/23 panned out.

And now he is being linked with the Bayern Munich job so go f***ing figure.

READ: Premier League 23/24 season losers: Kompany, Ten Hag, Sheffield United and Newcastle failed


22) Chris Wilder, Sheffield United – December onwards (20)
Wilder has simultaneously offered undeniable improvement at the Blades, albeit from the very lowest of bases, while also somehow contriving a position where losing 6-0 at home to Arsenal was quite reasonably framed as ‘only losing 6-0 at home to Arsenal’ given the previous two home games had ended in 5-0 defeats to Villa and Brighton, and Arsenal’s own free-scoring form.

It’s hard to place Wilder. The improvements are minuscule and cannot be said to have turned Sheffield United into anything more than a very bad Premier League side, but it’s equally true that nobody could probably have done anything to save them.

Next season will be the test. It will not be in the Barclays.


21) Steve Cooper, Nottingham Forest August-December (22)
We still had him crazy high on the list as recently quite a long way into the season and 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.


20) Roy Hodgson, Crystal Palace – August-February (21)
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.

Hodgson’s Palace had once again become a beacon of nothingness, on course to once again survive in the Premier League but without truly living. 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 left some kind of foundation on which his successor has already started some very impressive building work. But one way or another it was building work Hodgson himself was never going to complete, and the fact Palace had 24 points and 28 goals from 24 games when Hodgson left seems absolutely absurd when you consider the final league table and the football Oliver Glasner has some of the most beguiling attacking talent outside the Big Six/Seven/Eight playing.


19) Paddy McCarthy, Crystal Palace – February (19)
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.


18) Erik Ten Hag, Manchester United (10)
Could still be saved by the FA Cup final, but almost certainly won’t be and doesn’t really deserve to be, either. If Ten Hag appeared to live on anything approaching the real world, we might be more inclined to cut him some slack and give him a break.

There has been mitigation for United’s struggles this season. They have been beset by injury problems. They did fail to get the oven-ready striker they so obviously needed. Casemiro has got awful fat.

But the biggest problem with Ten Hag is that he appears to be operating under the absurd delusion that there isn’t a problem. He insists that Manchester United have been good against the best teams in the division when we can all see their results and can all work out that what he actually means here is ‘against Aston Villa’ because they’ve been cack against everyone else half-decent.

He appears not only unfussed but positively enthused about the fact teams – often and even especially struggling teams – routinely have their highest shot count of the entire season against his United team and also sees no correlation between letting opponents have lots of shots and also conceding quite a few goals.

And whatever excuses or explanations might exist, you don’t get to steer Manchester United to eighth place in the Premier League and bottom of their Champions League group without it being an unacceptable outcome.

We’re baffled that Ten Hag appears baffled by this. Tottenham, Chelsea and Newcastle have all had conspicuous struggles for huge parts of this season and all have finished above United. Ten Hag’s team have finished below every single team that might reasonably be termed a direct rival with even halfway similar goals and targets.

Ten Hag has never really managed to get this team playing the kind of football for which he was so highly regarded at Ajax, but more than that he simply never seems to have quite grasped that This Is Manchester United Football Club We’re Talking About.

READ: The F365 Expectations Table ranks every Premier League club from Aston Villa to Man Utd


17) Nuno Espirito Santo, Nottingham Forest – December onwards (16)
Kept Forest up with a fair bit to spare in the end, and it’s not really his fault that creating a six-point cushion over a truly terrible bottom three only required winning three and drawing one of the last eight games of the season.

The four-point penalty really could have made things dicier than it did for Forest even with Luton’s endlessly fun Premier League ride running out of puff as completely as it did. And their results across the run-in were better than the bare numbers of 10 points from eight games might look given three of their four defeats in that time came against Spurs, Man City and Chelsea while the fourth saw them match Liverpool’s result at Goodison Park.

Nuno has achieved a vital first target in avoiding relegation, but it still all feels wildly unclear what happens next. Forest are unlikely to benefit from such a weak and guileless bottom three next season with Leicester plus Leeds or Southampton back in the frame and there doesn’t yet feel like any sense of permanence about Nuno’s place at Forest given the owner’s fondness for being centre stage. We’re still thinking he’s gone by October and Forest give it Clatts until the end of the season.


16) Thomas Frank, Brentford (15)
Victim of his own success? Definitely a bit of that here. The very fact it’s possible to say ‘Brentford have no business getting themselves dragged into a Premier League relegation fight’ with a straight face is in no small part due to Frank’s quietly brilliant management of the side during its ascent to and settling down in the Premier League.

But this season has been a mess. The Ivan Toney Situation hasn’t helped, but a quick look at the trials and tribulations of the four teams to finish below them in the table is enough to tell you Frank shouldn’t have allowed his side to drift anywhere close to such choppy waters.

What you would have to say is that it was a good season, all things considered, to throw in a bit of a dud. It’s a long time since the 40-point barrier has been a thing, but you still wouldn’t normally expect 39 to see you end up 13 clear of trouble.

It’s still a season where Frank’s excellent reputation has taken a minor hit, and while it was an okay season for a club to falter a bit, it’s not the best time for a manager with a growing reputation to do it given the jobs that are and might be up for grabs. Which, when you think about it, might be another reason why this was a canny season for Brentford in a way. Never really in danger of going down, but now with less chance of having their manager poached in a summer where they’re already going to have to prepare for the post-Toney era anyway.


15) Roberto De Zerbi, Brighton (11)
With a lot of these, March really does seem like it was another world rather than eight weeks ago. Back in March, for instance, Brighton were very much still on course for Europe if they could win their game in hand on *checks notes* West Ham? Christ. And this was really only two months ago? Are we absolutely sure about that?

What we did note, though, was that Brighton had a horrible-looking run-in that had the potential for a stop-start, underwhelming season for De Zerbi to become an actively bad one.

But De Zerbi must steer Brighton through a tough run-in that is also at risk of being consumed by narrative. They’ve got games still to play against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United where De Zerbi’s suitability or otherwise to replace those clubs’ current/departing managers is sure to be a talking point.

They’ve also, though, got to play Arsenal. And Manchester City. And Aston Villa. And Newcastle. There’s a very real danger that they slip off the European places and end up in mid-table anonymity. It’s not a terrible worst-case scenario for Brighton, but it’s certainly a disappointing one after last season’s highs and the lightning fast start they made to this campaign.

We also know that recency bias is very much a thing, and any lack of whelm in how Brighton’s season finishes could have significant meaning for De Zerbi’s upcoming career path.

Well, yes, we’re going to give ourselves that one because Brighton won only one of their last 10 games and ended up in the bottom half. We will hold our hands up, though, and admit that by ‘significant meaning for De Zerbi’s upcoming career path’ we didn’t mean ‘departure announced before the season even finished’. Life comes at you fast in the Barclays.


14) Rob Edwards, Luton (8)
Ultimately, all those late winners they concede did prove more significant than all those late equalisers they score and Luton went down as one third of the worst set of promoted clubs the Sky Bet has ever sent the Barclays.

But while the end was tame, Luton and Edwards at least leave with some dignity. They were always the least equipped of the three promoted teams and gave it by far the best go. Nobody will remember much of anything about Sheffield United or Burnley, but Luton’s sub-plot was a big part of the season.

Much like Liverpool have deserved praise even in the years where City have bested them for at least making life interesting, we should all be grateful to Luton for at least giving it a red-hot crack and making the relegation battle a thing that existed for a little while there.

With Sheffield United and Burnley waving the white flags sometime around October, had Luton been anywhere near as bad as everyone expected them to be the relegation places would have been completely settled by Christmas no matter how many points penalties were dished out.


13) David Moyes, West Ham (9)
A hard-to-pin-down season to finish a hard-to-pin down reign. Remained to the end entirely ill-suited to the fans’ idea of themselves, and never truly able to consistently extract performances of sufficient attacking verve out of a Bowen-Paqueta-Kudus axis that really wouldn’t look out of place in the Big Six, but still steered them to a comfortable top-half finish and a third European quarter-final in a row for a club that had reached the last eight of European competitions four times ever before this run.

The ultimate sadness for Moyes was that even the games when that attacking line-up clicks as they did in the second leg against Freiburg counts against him, prompting as it did the inevitable ‘Why can’t we play like this more often?’ complaint.

This summer always looked like it presented a time when it was best for all concerned to move in a new direction, but it does feel a bit mad that we feel so sure of that given what Moyes has achieved over the last few years.

But we must strive always to avoid the dreariness of careful-what-you-wish-for boringness. It feels like the right time for a change because it is, and it probably was last summer. There is no guarantee that Moyes’ replacement exceeds his achievements at the London Stadium, but it’s also not exactly a stretch to imagine how they might.

We’re already far more pre-emptively annoyed than is healthy about the sort of sh*te we’re going to have to read when West Ham are 17th after eight games next season.


12) Eddie Howe, Newcastle (18)
Reading back our March verdict on Howe it seems perhaps the harshest of the lot, but it was also a difficult time for us. The international break had left us broken and bereft, and we lashed out by trying to manifest a Howe sacking into existence just to feel something. Anything.

This season must, though, go down as a disappointing one for Newcastle and Howe personally, and we stand by that March assessment that both club and manager are immensely fortunate to receive such kindly press.

Newcastle declared themselves part of the big boys’ club last season and yet they can only truly be part of that group when a season as underwhelming as this one has seen crisis declared. Which it never has, really. Not anywhere important, anyway. Only here, and we don’t count.

Newcastle have finished behind Chelsea and level on points with Manchester United, two clubs who have spent virtually the entire campaign in cracked-badge territory. Newcastle have rather got away with that and will also sneak into Europe assuming the FA Cup final goes as all logic and reason dictates that it must.

The Europa Conference isn’t where they want to be a year after their return to the Champions League, but it does potentially present Newcastle and Howe with the most presentable trophy chance available to any English club, because it’s a competition that doesn’t have Manchester City in it and the main thing you have to worry about appears to be Fiorentina.

Howe gets a free ride in the media because he is English primarily, but also because there’s definitely a weird kind of thing going on where Newcastle not being able to just pretty much cheat their way to success after getting all of the money is seen in some quarters as deeply unfortunate.

We still think if Eddie was Eduardo he’d have faced far greater scrutiny this season, but must also concede our reaction to the absence of said scrutiny was at least as egregious.


11) Andoni Iraola, Bournemouth (12)
Step one of the plan has been accomplished, with the careful-what-you-wish-for brigade duly silenced by Bournemouth finishing the season comfily mid-table playing far more enterprising football than their admirable needs-must survival-oriented efforts under Gary O’Neil.

We remain intrigued if not yet fully convinced by Iraola’s Bournemouth. They’re one of the streakiest teams we’ve seen in Our League.

That’s enticing, because it means it’s impossible to get away from the idea that they might become really quite good or go fully catastrophically bad across a longer period. And either of those options will be entertaining to watch, so that’s lovely.

Iraola has only been Bournemouth manager for a season and in that time he’s delivered a nine-game run without a win, seven wins in nine games, a six-game run without a win, and six wins in 10 games, before rounding out the campaign with three straight defeats. That’s brilliant, isn’t it? That’s so much more fun than your teams who just muddle along and get themselves to 45 points via more conventional methods.


10) Marco Silva, Fulham (9)
Yes, Marco. Very, very good. Fulham are a proper mid-table club and enjoyed an entirely proper mid-table season. Four points off Arsenal and one point off Burnley is entirely the correct way to go about things in mid-table. Keep everyone guessing.

We want a team that can beat anyone and lose to anyone and can quite happily do so in the same week if need be.

Silva’s Fulham give us precisely that. Their complete and utter demolition job on Tottenham before the international break was p*ss-your-pants funny, right up there with winning back-to-games 5-0 for a laugh in December, but the real joy of it was the sure and certain knowledge that they would follow that up by making a b*llocks of things at Sheffield United, where they had to score twice in the last five minutes just to salvage a point.

Weren’t quite as much fun after that, but still gave West Ham a good beating at the London Stadium and were the only team to take anything at all off Crystal Palace during the run-in before some textbook final-day fun in the sun saw them win 4-2 at Luton.

It’s rude to expect Fulham to finish any higher than mid-table, but what we can ask – nay, demand – of them is entertainment. Silva and his team absolutely gave us that.


9) Gary O’Neil, Wolves (5)
An undeniably disappointing end to the season, with Wolves winning just once – and that at home to Luton – after getting Magic of the Cupped by Coventry in March.

That defeat definitely took some wind from the Wolves sail and undoubtedly must’ve stung because they had a genuine shot at something extraordinary there given what looked a plum draw and their now-proven ability to on-their-day anyone in this league up to and including Manchester City.

But really we remain thoroughly inclined not to view a run of five points from the last 10 games as a stick with which to beat O’Neil, but rather a pointed reminder of the mess Wolves were in when he took over and that this was really what everyone expected this season to be like. Fading out over the last couple of months after cruising to 40 points was very much not the worst-case scenario for Wolves this year.

With the season over, though, Wolves must now sack O’Neil so he is free to firefight once more wherever he is needed next. O’Neil must never be allowed to see a project through. He must never get a Preseason Under His Belt. He must remain a wandering hero, saving clubs from themselves all over the land. Forest next, we reckon. Or Man Utd.


8) Mauricio Pochettino, Chelsea (14)
They were still in the bottom half when we last updated these in March, since when they’ve drawn with Burnley and Sheffield United and got paddled 5-0 by Arsenal.

They have, though, beaten just about everyone else on an improbable saunter up the table to a vaguely-respectable-in-the-end sixth-place finish and European football. Vast swathes of the Chelsea fanbase remain largely unconvinced by a man with so much Tottenham in his blood but despite what Rio Ferdinand may or may not be hearing, Pochettino has now surely at the very least done enough to get himself a second season. Or the start of one, anyway.

It remains a fascinating counter-factual to imagine just what Chelsea’s season might have looked like without the signing of Cole Palmer, a deal which had the air of afterthought following all the showy daftness of their other business.

We also wonder if perhaps enough isn’t being made of Palmer being so conspicuous a success under Pochettino while he struggles to get a decent tune out of higher-profile more experienced players. Palmer really is a player who perfectly fits the profile of the players who so flourished under Poch’s guidance and tutelage at Southampton and then especially Spurs.

That he now finds himself trying to repeat that trick at a club that wants to sell Trevoh Chalabah and Conor Gallagher for dreary reasons of ‘pure profit’ is a reminder that this still isn’t a perfect mesh of manager and club in terms of ideas and philosophy.

It remains all a bit of a mess, and even after the brilliant end-of-season form still feels like it’s far more likely to all end in tears than glory, but given how bad Chelsea were this season and the way things somehow got even worse than that for lengthy periods of this one, Poch has done pretty well to emerge with a passing grade and at least a chance to prove this can actually work in a second season.

7) Oliver Glasner, Crystal Palace – February onwards (13)
Cautious excitement would be how we’d frame our March assessment of Glasner’s start at Palace. We are no longer cautious. We are very giddy indeed.

We noted that the international break and a quirk of the schedule had afforded Glasner an unusual three-week mini ‘pre-season’ to impress his ideas on his new players between games against Luton and Forest that would both end 1-1.

In truth it would take another few weeks for Glasnerball to truly take hold, but when it did… Wow.

The freakish run-in that saw them pocket 19 of the last 21 points available began with mugging Liverpool off at Anfield and that really was just the start. What’s particularly striking about the way Glasner’s Palace finished the season was the way they weren’t just beating teams but taking them clean apart. And it’s not like they had the benefit of an easy run-in, either. They put five goals past both West Ham and Aston Villa, and four past Manchester United.

In all, five of the six wins on that joyous end-of-season run came against teams who finished above Palace in the table. You already wonder how many of them will finish above Palace next season if they can keep not only Glasner but all their attacking talent in situ for just one more year.

We want to see it more than anything, and not just so Palace can finally get to 50 points in a Premier League season. We’ve long argued that the real problem with how drab and predictable a side Palace had become was the fact that more than just about anyone else outside the top half at that time they appeared to have all the ingredients to be something far, far more than that.

We’ve had a tantalising glimpse now of what a top-drawer progressive manager can do with these raw materials and we like what we’re seeing. Glasner is already another potent rejoinder to the dreary careful-what-you-wish-for miserabilists who spent last summer tutting at Bournemouth and are currently to be found chastising West Ham fans and others for having the temerity to want more joy from their football.

Seventh is ridiculously high for a manager who only took charge for the final third of the season, but we’re still looking at this and trying to see if we can nudge him up another place or two, such has been his transformative impact.

READ: Premier League 23/24 season winners: Foden, Palmer, Emery, Arsenal, Klopp and Dyche all brilliant


6) Sean Dyche, Everton (17)
That March ranking looks incredibly low now, but two months ago Everton were in the midst of a baffling 13-match run without a win and steadfastly refusing to drag themselves clear of a relegation battle.

They then had another couple of points chipped off them but won their last five home games of the season without conceding a goal to finish up with a defensive record at least 10 goals better than anyone else in the bottom half and better than anyone bar the three teams who spent the season fighting for the title. And they did all that while still finding time to ship six goals at Chelsea for a laugh.

As Stead noted in his season Winners & Losers, which you must go and read if you have not already done so, only Dyche could be so perfectly attuned to the specifics of Barclays survival to end the season with 40 points despite having eight deducted. The man is a master.

Now it’s all about what comes next for Dyche and Everton. At a normal club with a normal manager, the end-of-season form and a pre-deduction tally that places them firmly mid-table would inspire feelings of optimism and hope for the future, but Everton aren’t allowed those things. Which is just one of the many reasons why, for all their trials and tribulations and mistakes, what Everton have got is the perfect manager for their current situation.

Dyche’s best work always seems to come when faced with adversity or crisis, and those are never going to be in short supply. Go ahead. Keep taking points off him next season. It only makes his Dycheball stronger.


5) Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham (6)
Mate. Fun manager, fun team. We love them until we hate them because they are a resoundingly and unstoppably unserious football club utterly incapable of escaping their own history and nonsense.

Postecoglou has done far more than anyone could reasonably have expected so soon from a new-look Spurs team that lost its greatest ever player on season’s eve. He’s already managed to annoy dull rival fans just by saying ‘mate’ quite a lot, while objectively becoming the greatest “Spoke Well, I Thought” manager in Barclays history at great speed. But even he’s been sucked into the Tottenham vortex of misery and guff now.

This is the history of the Tottenham, and thus a season that began with eight wins and two draws from their first 10 games and the wild sight of a team being cheered and clapped from the pitch after a 4-1 home defeat to Mauricio Pochettino’s Chelsea of all teams and all managers has ended with the seemingly beautiful manager-fans relationship already turning sour.

Postecoglou did the good part of the Spurs manager cycle far quicker than anyone expected, so perhaps we shouldn’t really be surprised he also reached the ‘hate this ridiculous club and its inherent ridiculousness tbh’ stage far quicker than anticipated also.

But while the relationship has been damaged, it is not yet broken. The Tottenham supporters’ trust have offered to go to marriage counselling they will seek to explain the complicated concept of footballing rivalries to the former Celtic manager, and what we mainly hope is that it is all caught on camera.

Every summer seems to be a big one for Spurs, but this is a huge one. They’re either one-fifth of the way through something really very special indeed or two-thirds of the way through another false dawn, and our nagging suspicion now is that it’s the latter.

The overall season outcome was still a good one, but Spurs were a mid-table team for far, far longer than they were an excellent one. But their best is still absurdly, captivatingly good with the definite sense that we haven’t seen anything like Angeball’s final form. But will he survive long enough to deliver it?


4) Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool (3)
The grand farewell just petered out a bit in the end, didn’t it? A genuine shame, that. It would have been marvellous to see Klopp sign off with a proper to-the-last-game title bid or at least a place in one of the cup finals or other that formed part of the now long-forgotten Quadruple Bid.

But the surprise of Liverpool’s season wasn’t that their title bid faded away but that it existed at all and for so long after a difficult 22/23 and a rushed summer midfield rebuild forced upon them by Saudi Arabia and Jordan Henderson’s evangelical need to spread the good word of football.

Even when he knew his own energy for the job had been exhausted, Klopp was still able to conjure a title challenge out of pretty unpromising conditions in a situation that he knew from his own wearying experience was going to offer almost zero margin for error.

The Premier League will be poorer for his departure, and in all Barclays history only David Moyes and Unai Emery have faced a more profound Tough Act To Follow than Arne Slot.

What happens next for Liverpool is going to be one of the key storylines on the next season of Barclays, and our gut feeling is it’s going to paint Klopp in an absurdly good light.


3) Mikel Arteta, Arsenal (2)
Is Arteta still actually a little bit underrated? Arsenal fans haven’t stopped banging on about him, because they’re Arsenal fans and you know what they’re like. They can be a little bit… Arsenal. We do think he might actually still be a little bit underrated, though.

He’s normalised Arsenal’s return as bona fide Premier League title contenders and might just have done it so quickly and so convincingly that nobody’s quite stopped long enough to consider how mental that actually is. They’ve been nowhere near this current level for absolutely ages now.

Arteta is only the second manager to have given Guardiola anything to think about at all in the Barclays, and he’s done it as a novice with a club that had won itself a reputation over the previous decade for being very nearly as stupid and self-defeating as its neighbour.

And even in this season’s ultimate disappointment there remains tangible improvement. Arsenal didn’t falter on the run-in this time, they didn’t bottle it no matter how loudly the internet’s dimmest bulbs shout and meme to the contrary.

Arteta had a ridiculously unexpected and seemingly unimprovable season and then casually improved upon it. There is no more unexpected now. We’ve said it before, but perhaps the most significant thing Arteta has done is shift the perception around these two admirable near-misses. Last year the vibe was ‘When will this chance come around again?’ but this year it’s very much ‘Ah well, they’ll win it soon enough.’

Doesn’t mean it’s true, because football doesn’t work like that, but it does mean Arteta has drastically shifted the needle at a club that had seemingly become entirely incapable of getting out of its own way.


2) Pep Guardiola, Manchester City (4)
Only Pep Guardiola could be ranked fourth as he was in March after a run of 17 wins and two draws in his last 19 games. Only Pep Guardiola could still fall short of top spot after losing no more games after that point and completing the unprecedented achievement of a fourth successive English title.

This is the rarefied air in which Guardiola operates and City will still be kicking themselves about getting knocked out by Real Madrid in the Champions League after a couple of draws in which Guardiola’s side were guilty of occasional and deeply costly carelessness.

Domestically, though, they were their usual flawless selves throughout the run-in, with even the goalless home draw against Arsenal looking impeccably judged in the end. He knew Arsenal would mess up against Aston Villa, and he knew Son Heung-min would miss that chance. Even if he did look sufficiently worried about it that he became the first manager in recorded history to shadow save a one-on-one from the touchline. Not for Guardiola the more prosaic shadow header from a corner. We’re dealing with true greatness here.

Very possible – perhaps even probable – that we only have one more year of Guardiola and with it the inevitable fifth title in a row. Chelsea a distant second, if you’re interested, with Arsenal another 10 points further back in third having succumbed to the inevitable third-season exhaustion that always prevented Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool going toe-to-toe with City for three years in succession.


1) Unai Emery, Aston Villa (1)
Just doing a brilliant job with almost no outward fuss and precisely none of the Main Character Energy exhibited by the managers whose company he now keeps.

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 grim relegation battle. That, somehow, really was only last season.

Now they’ve finished fourth and qualified for the Champions League without anyone thinking this particularly odd or even noteworthy anymore.

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 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 anywhere else.

He’s our manager of the year, and he would probably hate that. Load of fuss and nonsense, that.