In January 2016, I felt Arsenal was at a crisis point. At that moment, if they did not invest in the club and bring in some players midseason to make a title challenge, their best chance to win the league in the years to come was gone. Not only were they neck and neck with Leicester City, who of course could never win the League, but there were clouds gathering on the horizon. The biggest clubs in England were transitioning and would emerge next season improved. Manchester United were letting go of Louis Van Gaal and replacing him with someone better, probably Jose Mourinho. Pep Guardiola, recognized as one of if not the best manager in the game, was coming to Manchester City. Jurgen Klopp looked like the managerial genius he was said to be. And Spurs actually looked like a top-class club.
The summer would come and these clubs would open their war chests. New top-class players in the hands of managerial geniuses would mean dominance for years to come and Arsenal, who allegedly had a great manager and always failed to pay top dollar for top talent, would see their opportunity for a league title close shut for the time being.
Fast forward sixteen months later and on the surface this prediction has come to pass. Arsenal are in danger of finishing outside the top four, these clubs are importing talent from across the world, and the short-term outlook for the club looks dims. However, look closer and you’ll see that one element of the equation may be off. The Manchester clubs, Chelsea, Spurs, and Liverpool are high-end shopping, but for each one (except Chelsea) there are questions about their no-doubt managerial hires.
Let’s start with Manchester United. The Special One is up to his usual tricks in manipulating the media, as people are seemingly giving him a pass for finishing sixth with the Red Devils. That alone would seemingly be unacceptable to most fans. However, their run to the Europa League title game is allowing Mourinho to equate a title in this competition to a top four finish. The impact on last season would be the same, but sixth in the league is still sixth. As the squad transitions to a younger core, there are some doubts as to whether Mourinho’s mind games are actually motivating his players.
Move across town and gaze upon Pep Guardiola, who saw amazing success with two of the largest clubs in the world. What’s gone wrong with City? While the results are early, what City have put on the field is an aging squad that is a poor fit for the style and methods of their manager. Players like Gabriel Jesus provide hope for the future, but going into the summer there are questions at a number of positions. City can buy replacements for any position, but can Guardiola manage at a place where an ethos ingrained in him is not taught from the first time an academy player touches a ball.
Jurgen Klopp still wins the press conferences, but Liverpool fans are now starting to ask tough questions. In a league where both Manchester clubs and Arsenal are relatively weak, why can’t Liverpool win the league? Some say it’s his tactics while others say it’s a slow build through multiple transfer markets. Regardless, there are scenarios where Liverpool hires a new manager that don’t seem farfetched.
Looking at London, Chelsea seem to have nailed it with hiring Antonio Conte. Returning to the Champions League next season allows the Italian to chase the title that has eluded him which may see them slip in the league. More realistically is a Tottenham regression. The current mix of manager and player is near perfect, but this summer could be cruel to Spurs. Moving to Wembley temporarily robs the club of a home field advantage. The young core could be raided by clubs in other leagues that can offer more titles than Spurs could realistically win. Seeing a player departure looming, Mauricio
Pochettino could opt to jump to Barcelona, Atleti, or another major managerial position where there is a guarantee of world-class players.
My optimism this week is built upon the fact that the one year ago, I was convinced the coming group of new managers would seal off the league title in the next few year at least. Now, if Arsenal can get their house in order, I am optimistic our other major competitors may not have a definitive advantage on the touchline.