Arsenal 2-0 Manchester United: A Lot of Work for Two Former Players

Arsenal versus Manchester United was once one of the most anticipated fixtures of the season. But ever since their respective longest-serving managers have departed, the clubs aren’t nearly as relevant at the top of the table.

Unai Emery’s time at Arsenal won’t be remembered fondly by anyone. Since the start of last season, there has never been a moment where Arsenal looked like a capable side, relying heavily on the brilliance of Aubameyang and Lacazette. Their shot numbers were consistently average, and there were countless games where the team generally lacked an attacking structure, struggling to break down teams like Wolves and Crystal Palace. Emery’s man-management also did come under scrutiny. His treatment of the club’s highest earner, Mesut Ozil, was somewhat baffling and continued the narrative of Emery’s difficulties in dealing with prominent personalities.

Yet, what bothered me the most was how Emery was utilising his midfielders. Since summer 2018, Arsenal have brought in several midfield reinforcements. Lucas Torreira arrived as a defensive midfielder, having a massive defensive output while being a competent ball progressor. Matteo Guendouzi was arguably the highlight of Sven Mislintat’s time as head of recruitment. The Frenchman arrived for £5 million and has done a lot more than I expected from a player coming from Ligue 2. He’s proved to be a progressive passer, even if the defensive side of his game still needs a lot of work. 

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I never liked how Emery set up these players. He’d regularly play Granit Xhaka has a single defensive midfielder. While Xhaka’s passing can make him a valuable asset to every manager who he’s played under, his lack of mobility will always make him a target defensively. It was more frustrating to see Torreira playing as a box to box midfielders and Ceballos as an advanced playmaker. While they’re versatile enough to fill those roles, it makes it difficult for them to play to their strengths. A cohesive midfield can be built with these talented players, which makes the lack of protection offered by the midfield even more infuriating.

Mikel Arteta appointment as the new Arsenal manager is the most exciting Arsenal have been for over a decade. While Arteta is an unknown in terms of how I think his team will play, some factors hint towards a man who could become the long term successor to Wenger. Generally, central midfielders are seen as the smartest players on the pitch. The likes of Sergio Busquets, Fernandinho and Marco Verratti are all excellent readers of the game, able to spot their teammates in hard to reach positions, and sense danger before any attacks materialise. We’re seeing this now with some of the most prominent managers in Europe. Carlo Ancelotti, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps and Roberto Martinez, all previously midfielders, have shown to be intelligent tactically, whether through building a philosophy for their teams or showing a high level of adaptability. Arteta’s work with Pep Guardiola and experience playing under Arsene Wenger have given him a high level of knowledge from two of the games best thinkers from the century.

Arteta is clearly seen as a long-term option, but if he is to success for the next six months, he must fix the midfield and add some consistency in terms of approach and lineup. It would help evaluate the level of many of these players. Arsenal do have a lot of players I like, but thus far haven’t shown the level we know they can play at. If he can do that, as well as make them fun to watch, he will set himself up for an exciting second season.

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Since we last spoke about Manchester United, after their 1-1 with Arsenal, not much has really changed. While Rashford’s improvement in form and Martial’s return to the starting XI has helped them move up the table, the same issues persist. Big wins over Manchester City, Tottenham and Chelsea, did help push United into the conversation for Champions League football next season, especially with these same opponents dropping points at crucial stages of the season. United have been reliant on the pace in their forwards when playing one of the bigger teams, accepting that they are the underdog in these games. City and Tottenham struggled to deal with the speed in which United were transitioning. Martial would consistently drop deep to retrieve the ball, while Rashford and James would stretch the defence and use their pace to beat whoever they’re against. Manchester City consistently leaving themselves open was definitely a factor in their 2-1 defeat. However, United still deserve praise for taking advantage of the weaknesses City have gained since De Bruyne’s return.

In all fairness, their ability against the bigger sides was never in question. The problem was how they could break down teams who were willing to sacrifice possession in the same way United do. Defeats to Bournemouth and Watford and draws to Everton and Aston Villa highlighted how these issues have remained. Their 1-0 defeat to Bournemouth, in particular, was awful. A lack of chance creation and the forward line failing to get behind a rather weak Bournemouth defence. Their lack of consistency is easily the most significant issue. One week they’ll beat two of the best teams in the country, the next they fail to beat a relegation favourite.

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Yet even with questions regarding the players in this squad, having better players would fix a lot of their issues. However, I think it might be a while before United will ever be back in the conversation for a title. When hearing Ed Woodward speak on how difficult it is to sign more than three players in a summer window or the lack of value in the January transfer window, it makes you wonder if the club even want to get back to the top. A majority of the players linked to the club are usually players from Premier League clubs who would cost an insane amount of money. James Maddison, Jack Grealish, Declan Rice, John McGinn and Dominic Calvin-Lewin do fill the rather strange policy of going for British players, but there is better value out there. In the summer alone, we saw Thiago Mendes move for £20 million, Julian Brandt for £17 million and Marcus Thuram for £10 million. Even now, players like Dani Olmo and Marco Roca are available for less than £40 million. You can always find value in the market, but it entirely depends where you are looking. If Manchester United’s focus remains only in the Premier League, it’ll take years to build a cohesive squad. 

Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Manchester United was the first time I’ve managed to watch Arteta’s Arsenal, and they’re showing some promising signs. The lineup the former Arsenal captain chose was a massive departure to the defensive starting XI’s seen under Emery. Nicolas Pepe, Ozil, Lacazette and Aubameyang all started this game. These elite talents were one of the reasons why Arsenal did look so good in the first half. Kolasinac and Aubameyang linked up well on the left side, with the Gabon forward consistently staying wide, allowing Kolasinac to run with the ball through the space opened from Wan-Bissaka staying with Aubameyang. This was how the first goal was made. Kolasinac had another free sprint right at the defence. He picks out Aubameyang, who notices Pepe free in the box, and delivers a perfect ball for the Ivorian. 

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What impressed me a lot about Arteta was just how quickly Arsenal were able to get into United’s half. While their opposition do deserve some blame for this, the ways they were able to quickly create chances in the first half. They could progress the ball through the full-backs, or use the excellent passing of Xhaka and David Luiz to send a long ball into the wingers. Arsenal were really exciting in that first half, and while they did slow down in the final 45 minutes, the game was in their hands. 

Defensively, Arsenal looked very good. The attacking lineup did cause some concern, mainly if United could produce similar counter-attacks as they have done against some of the top 6. However, all of their forwards, with some garnering a reputation of being lazy, were fantastic defensively. All four of Arsenal’s forwards kept United’s defenders short of options during buildup play. Even Mesut Ozil, who many pundits have consistently labelled as lazy, made 46 pressures, more than any other player on the pitch. United were slow in moving the ball, but Arsenal made it so difficult for them. 

Torreira returned to his more familiar role as a true defensive midfielder. Xhaka was given more licence to push forward, while Torreira would ensure the defence wouldn’t be facing much traffic. It was arguably the most significant crime Emery committed; not playing one of the best young midfielders in the right position. 

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While Arsenal were more focused on holding onto their lead in the second half than truly humiliating United, that first half was such an encouraging sign for any Arsenal fan. For the first time since Wenger, they were fun to watch in a game. They were attacking with speed, dynamism and skill. The question is if they can do this consistently, but we’ll have to wait and see. 

As for United, the lack of energy and pressing was disturbing. United aren’t the pressing side they probably wish to be, but Arsenal were given so much freedom in transition. David Luiz and Sokratis had so many opportunities to run straight into midfield without a United player to close them down. Martial and Rashford looked slow in this game, and you can’t really blame them. The pair have played so much football when they’ve been available. With top four looking like a possibility and the Europa League returning in a month, I doubt they’ll ever get a chance to sit out games. They are United’s only chance of getting into the top four. If they have to rely on James, Lingard and Pereira, they’ll plummet down the table. 

Both managers are in very different places. Arteta, replacing a pretty unequipped coach, has given Arsenal players and fans something to be excited about. Solsjkaer also went through this same period, so we’ll see if Arteta can reach the same level as the coaches he’s worked with. 

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Solskjaer will be under a lot of pressure until the summer arrives. You hear a lot of trusted journalists say the Manchester United board are happy with the Norwegian, but that sense of doubt will always be there. If Pochettino wants to join the club, will they just let Solsjkaer go, similar to what they did to Van Gaal once Mourinho was available? I can’t blame Solsjkaer for all the problems. There are so many holes throughout the squad that one window isn’t enough with the lack of urgency United currently operate with. Woodward can go on and on about how difficult it is to sign players, but with players needed in midfield and attack so clear, it’ll be an embarrassment if their targets aren’t brought in by the end of June. 

 

Arsenal’s Early Form and Why It Isn’t a Surprise

In my Premier League predictions, I predicted Arsenal to overperform, based on their overreliance on Aubameyang, who covered their cracks quite effectively. Even with the new additions of Kieran Tierney, David Luiz, Nicolas Pepe and Dani Ceballos, the side still lacked that solidarity at the back and in midfield to prevent them from challenging Liverpool and Man City at the top of the table. When you add that alongside a manager who I doubt can take Arsenal into the Champions League spots, this season could get a lot worse for the Gunners.

Let’s start with the attack, where the numbers read similarly to last season. It was an area that needed desperate improvement. Last season, Arsenal were taking 12.3 shots per game, the 11th best in the division, behind Southampton, Wolves and Crystal Palace. Arsenal were dominating games, averaging 56% possession per game last season, but failed to make that control count. The ‘Top 6′ are perceived to be miles ahead of the teams below them in the table, but the truth is countless times Arsenal looked so passive in the final third, especially against weaker opposition. Take their 1-1 draw against Wolves in November 2018 as one of many examples. They dominated the game 72% possession to Wolves’ 28%, yet were outshot by their opponents, with Jota, Traore and Costa having chances to win the game for the away side. Arsenal just couldn’t deal with their counter attacks and speedy wingers and allowed them to look the better team in possession.

Even with a lot of bad performances, Arsenal still remained in the conversation for Champions League football. However, that all changed after a 3 game spell, which saw them showcase their frailties for the country to see. Defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester allowed Chelsea to get into the top 4. Their 3-2 loss to Palace was bad based on individual errors. It must have been the final nail in the coffin for Mustafi’s future in North London, with the German defender allowing Zaha to ease past him for the second goal. Their 3-1 defeat to Wolves did flatter in the sense of Wolves were putting the ball away from difficult areas, but this game showed just how useless Arsenal were at chance creation. From open play, Arsenal created next to nothing, and while they were unfortunate to concede three, they didn’t deserve to win by any stretch. Yet, this wasn’t even the worst performance out of the three defeats. Their 3-0 battering by the hands of Leicester City was a sign of just how bad Emery’s team was. While Maitland-Niles’ red card in the first half did obviously make it more challenging to get the win, allowing Leicester to have so many shots from inside the box was still extremely concerning, considering Koscielny came on for Iwobi soon after the sending off. xG had this game 3.68 to 0.60, showing how Leicester deserved such a comfortable victory.

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These 3 games perfectly provided proof of the problems with Arsenal. The Palace game showed the poor individuals who needed replacing, The Wolves game showed a side unable to create chances and Leicester just how easily Arsenal could be opened up. The North London club attempted to resolve a lot of these problems in the transfer market, and to their credit, they had a great summer in terms of recruitment. William Saliba began the spending with the defender signing for £27 million. The 18-year-old, however, was sent back to his former club St Etienne on loan, to gain more first-team experience in a league which excels in the development in young players. Dani Ceballos was next, arriving on loan from Real Madrid. The Spaniard was seen as one of Spain’s next excellent midfield talent, able to bring quality on the ball while putting in a lot of defensive actions. He could add much-needed ball progression to a very slow and sluggish midfield. Nicolas Pepe was the marquee signing, with the former Lille winger arriving for over £70 million. There is no denying Arsenal have overspent on Pepe, but he was absolutely fantastic last season. I was intrigued to see how he would play in a team where he wasn’t the main threat and prove that he is one of the best wide players in Europe. David Luiz and Kieran Tierney signed on deadline day for £8 million and £25 million respectively. Luiz is on the older side but is a fine-enough stop-gap until Saliba is ready to become a regular in that defence. There is definitely question marks over Tierney being good enough for a big club, with Scotland having a pretty bad domestic league. However, there is no denying he is an improvement over an ageing Monreal and a defensively-weak Kolasinac.

There is no doubting that Arsenal have improved in terms of personnel, and are arguably the 3rd best team in the country. Manchester United still have weaknesses in attack and midfield, Chelsea lost their best attacker and Spurs didn’t bring in a back-up for a Harry Kane who isn’t one of the top 5 strikers in the world anymore. Arsenal already had a decent goalkeeper and the best striking partnership in the league, and have added improvements throughout the team. You could argue Arsenal did need to look at a back up for Bellerin until his return, but Maitland-Niles can cover pretty well for him.

After 6 games, Arsenal sit in 4th with 11 points, 7 behind Liverpool and 2 behind Man City. On that fact, it would seem like Arsenal have started well, but in reality, they haven’t improved as of yet. A scrappy nevertheless, deserved win over Newcastle wasn’t the worst way to start the season, considering their away form has always been questionable. Their 2-1 home win over Burnley didn’t exhale confidence. Sean Dyche’s side had a few good chances to win the game and were slightly ahead of Arsenal on xG (1.16 to Burnley’s 1.39). Excellent performances from both David Luiz and Dani Ceballos did give Arsenal fans a big positive out of the game. It wasn’t a great start, but getting maximum points with players still missing was at least acceptable. Then the Liverpool game happened.

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I haven’t touched on Emery yet, but I have not been the Spaniard’s biggest fan since his arrival in North London. He showed at Sevilla how good his sides were in knockout competitions, winning the Europa League three consecutive times. Both him and Monchi were getting the best out of undervalued talent like Rakitic, Gameiro, Bacca and N’Zonzi, who were brought in for low prices and left bringing Sevilla a significant profit. PSG looked at Emery and in their desperation to win the Champions League, chose him to finally begin their desired domination in Europe. However, all didn’t go to plan in his debut season in France. It’s hard to criticise him in Ligue 1 when Monaco won the league with an extremely talented squad. It was a year where everything seemed to click for Jardim’s side, and with PSG losing Ibrahimovic and David Luiz, it left them relatively vulnerable. Their recruitment that summer was especially weak, with Ben Arfa, Krychowiak, Jese Rodriguez and Gonzalo Guedes all failing to make an impression. Unfortunately, Emery’s time at PSG is best remembered by that round of 16 encounter with Barcelona. After tearing them apart in the first leg, with Verrati especially having one of the best games for the club, it gave them a 4 goal lead over the Catalan club. However, as we all know, they absolutely capitulated in the second leg. The pressure seemed to get to the players and thanks to some extremely questionable refereeing decisions, a weak Barcelona side advanced.

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His second season did bring the league title back to Paris, but a defeat to Real Madrid in the round of 16 cemented Emery’s time in France as an overall failure. When brought in with the sole intention of winning one competition and failing even to get close to the final, it’s easy to see why PSG didn’t renew his contract. After Wenger finally departed the club, Arsenal chose Emery as his successor, giving him a two-year contract, making it a very sensible appointment and allowing the club to resolve some of their off-field problems.

So why don’t I like him? Well because he hasn’t been great for years now, especially at Arsenal, where the attack has gotten a lot worse, and the defence has marginally improved. During Wenger’s final years at the club, Arsenal were extremely weak defensively but remained one of the best-attacking sides in the league. Emery sacrificed that attack to help resolve the defensive issues, but haven’t shown much of an improvement, even after the summer signings. However, during their 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, Emery was entirely to blame for their awful performance. When you play the European champions, the one thing you do not allow them is space in the wide areas, and what did Arsenal do? Give Alexander-Arnold and Robertson all the room in the world on their respective flanks. Arsenal simply didn’t deal with their biggest threat, with the Alexander-Arnold saying after the game that he expected them to play a different system, and they were “really narrow.”

Allowing Liverpool to play to their strengths is something you wouldn’t expect a manager of Emery’s experience to do. I’ve always seen him as a defensively-minded, adaptable and pragmatic coach. It baffles me why many of the mainstream media treat him like a philosophy manager, similar to Guardiola and Klopp. Emery has always been pretty effective in those big games, which is why he was able to guide Sevilla to three Europa Leagues. He doesn’t mind bringing in players to fill specific roles, something you see Mourinho or Allegri attempt to do. It’s some of Arsenal’s performances in the big games that have left me scratching my head, to why he consistently makes terrible decisions.

The Liverpool performance was abysmal, but their 2-2 draw against Watford was arguably the worst performance I’ve seen from Emery’s Arsenal as of yet. Allowing arguably the worst side in the league, right after they sacked their manager and brought in former Watford coach Quique Sanchez Flores. The Gunners allowed Watford to have 31 shots on target. That is a number you see Manchester City have against relegation sides, which helps illustrate just how bad Arsenal are at the back. The lack of midfield protection was staggering, with Guendouzi and Xhaka just allowing Deulofeu, Doucoure and Capoue to waltz right into the box and if it weren’t for Aubameyang scoring a first-half brace, it would have been an embarrassing day for Emery and his players.

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Do I think Arsenal can improve? Absolutely. Bellerin and Tierney haven’t played in the Premier League as of yet and will offer a lot in attack while not being so weak defensively. The best thing Arsenal can do until the pair are fully fit is drop Xhaka. There is no reason to play Xhaka when you have an excellent passer in David Luiz and an elite ball progressor in Dani Ceballos. Xhaka is one of the best passers in the league but is such a liability in every other area that it’s hard to justify him starting every weak, especially when the new signings can do what he can and offer more. Playing a midfield three of Torreira, Guendouzi and Ceballos will give them more mobility and keep them defensively solid. I just worry that Emery won’t do this, and persist with starting Xhaka every week, keeping Torreira on the bench and using him incorrectly and only playing Ceballos when he feels like it.

If I were Arsenal’s head of football operations, I wouldn’t give Emery a contract extension. Giving him 2-years was sensible, not wanting to make the same consistent mistakes that Manchester United have made in terms of managers’ contract. Arsenal have let go of many of their fringe players and brought young talent to keep the team fresh and giving them a chance to grow. Arsenal were a mess under Wenger, but at least they were fun. Under Emery, it’s been a frustrating journey to see how bad their performances have become.

Most Overrated Manager? Ranking All 20 Premier League Managers

I’ve been meaning to do one of these lists for a while, but because of the whole manager merry go round that is the Premier League, I decided to wait for the season to reach a point that contained an element of stabililty. The table doesn’t look like it will change from now on so let’s rank all 20 Premier League managers. There is definitely some controversial choices here, but this list isn’t permanent, meaning these could change by the next year. I do believe that needs be stated, so let’s begin

    20. Scott Parker – Fulham

By far the easiest choice here. This isn’t anything personal against Parker. The former England midfielder has only been in the job for a handful of games, meaning it is difficult to judge him. Parker took charge after both Jokanovic and Ranieri failed in keeping Fulham out of the relegation zone. Fulham do not look like they will be appointing another manager, and right it seems to be damage control. This has been a failure of a season for Fulham, and now Parker has been left in a very difficult position. Let’s hope he can find his feet in the game and recover from being in this circumstance.

    19. Jan Siewert – Huddersfield

Another who has joined a sinking ship, Jan Siewert is another I sympthaise for. His appointment seemes to be in the hope of regaining promotion back into the Premier League, instead of survival. Huddersfield are already one of the lowest scoring teams in Premier League history, and have a squad that is arguably worse than some teams in the Championship. The fact that Huddersfield survived last season was nothing short of a miracle, and now it seems reality has hit them. A poor summer window just showed that this is a side that just isn’t ready for the Top flight, and need time to establish themselves as a bigger club. I have no idea if Siewert is the right manager to do that, but he seems to be a long term fix, rather than trying to fight the inevitable.

    18. Chris Hughton – Brighton

While I do like Hughton as a coach, being able to build a solid defensive structure and having experience in getting sides promoted, the disconnect between transfers and coach seem to be so apparent that it makes Hughton a very frustrating figure. When teams get promoted, what they need most is creativity and to beat the teams closest to them. Brighton did this, mainly down to Pascal Gros bringing the chance creation that he showed at Ingolstadt, and was the main reason why Brighton stayed up. Other signings like Matt Ryan and Davy Propper helped in this regard too. It is clear that whoever is in charge of Brighton’s transfers is incredible at finding great talent for very reasonable fees. They did similar business in the summer, with talents like Bisouma and Jahanbakhsh arriving, but this is where my frustration with Hughton is from. The higher ups at Brighton are bringing in very talented footballers, yet Hughton just isn’t playing them. Bernardo, who arrived from RB Leipzig, has played less games than 30 year old Gaetan Bong. Jahanbakhsh has only started 6 games, while Anthony Knockaert, one of the worst players in the league, has started 15. While guys like Sarri and Guardiola can get criticised for never changing the way they play, Hughton is being gifted improvements over the players he has, and isn’t using them. They have one of the best defences in the league, if Hughton actually decides to start his best players. I just worry for Brighton. I do not like to see clubs who are doing good things struggling because of one man refusing to use his best tools. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hughton is let go in the future at some point

    17. Eddie Howe – Bournemouth

While many might see this and disagree, I do believe he is the most overrated manager in the league. I think there is an element that the English media wants to see an English manager succeed, especially when they are young and have built a football romance story by getting Bournemouth to the Premier League. This doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t a great manager. By far his best quality is building solid attacks. Howe has been given some very good players in Wilson, King, Fraser and Brooks. He uses these players very effectively, and has been able to get all of these players into the same team, and working well. Fraser is only behind Hazard in assists in the league, and has turned into one of the most effective wingers this season. David Brooks is currently having one of the breakout seasons, scoring some important goals and showing himself to be a very flexible attacker. Howe has turned Bournemouth into a fast, counter attacking side, and has shown some adaptability in changing his style. By far the worst part of his Bournemouth side is their inability to defend. Bournemouth have conceded 56 goals this season, with all sides in the bottom four conceding more. It means that Brighton, Southampton and Newcastle, all sides below them in the table, have better defences than them. Newcastle and Manchester United both face roughly same amount as shots as Bournemouth, yet have much better defensive records. It shows that Bournemouth are giving their opponents great chances to score, consistently. The argument is made that they are a small club, yet both Hughton and Benitez, two managers working with more of a budget, concede less goals. Until Eddie Howe learns how to actually build an effective defence, no club will consider him. He is still young however, so there is plenty of time for him to learn.

    16. Neil Warnock – Cardiff 

While his methods of coaching can definitely be questioned, there is no argument that he is a specialist in promotion. His Cardiff side were arguably the worst out of the 3 sides that got promoted last season, yet they still deserved to get promoted. He is an old fashioned coach who likes an old fashioned way of playing, and it is very effective. Before the season started, I thought they would be going straight down. They didn’t seem to recruit in the right areas and were going to have to be very lucky to survive. Somehow Warnock is doing the impossible, and is getting the best out of what he’s got. They are one of the best sides in the league when it comes to aerial dominance. They are good at creating chances too. The Welsh side have taken 1.1 shots a game from inside the six yard area, only 6 teams are ahead of them, and are actually better than Chelsea. Warnock has even been saying at the beginning of the season that surviving was nearly impossible, and he was right. They haven’t been great, but they haven’t been nearly as bad as Fulham and Huddersfield. They rank bottom for possession and passes, yet Warnock has kept them out of the relegation zone for most of the season. From moving Callum Paterson from full back to a striker, dragging every ounce out of 34 year old Sol Bamba, and fitting Camarasa and Josh Murphy right into the side, he is getting the best out of what he has and is giving them a chance of survival. They have been on the end of some huge defeats, that will happen when you have a Championship level squad. What he has done for Cardiff is another achievement for Warnock. Even at the age of 70, he still remains a good manager in improving a side on the short term. I like Warnock, but there are 15 other managers who I think are better.

    15. Sean Dyche – Burnley 

It might sound stange, but there are some clear similarities between Sean Dyche and Diego Simeone. Both build very resilient back lines, use two blocks of four to defend, and require a lot of defensive work from all their players. One other similarity is how they are awful at using more flair players. While Dyche doesn’t have Lemar, Carrasco, Gaitan and Martins as a list of failures, there are stll some clear standouts. Nakhi Wells is the first. He was the first of a few attempts to add something different to his attack. It didn’t work out in the slightest, and is now at QPR. Another player who came in was Steven Defour. At the time, I thought he was a very good signing, but it’s a shame he didn’t play much. Last but not least would be Vydra. The Czech Republic striker had came in after having a steller season with Derby, and like the others, just hasn’t been getting the minutes. Dyche is just afraid to risk that small chance of relegation, in favour of spicing up is attack. While Burnley did really well last season, their drop off was expected. Dyche was defying expected goals. By putting nearly all of his outfield players in the 18 yard box. It tricked the system because even if the opposition were getting in good positions, they were never having clear shots at goal. It did also help that Nick Pope had a great season, and made sure that Heaton’s presence wasn’t missed. Burnley’s luck has just ran out. They have struggled all season defensively and struggle in creating good chances. Without that solid defence, it puts even more pressure on the forwards, and aren’t producing. Dyche does things that I like, but he might need to start changing his methods. It’s a shame too, because this team still contains good defenders, but maybe using Vydra, and not building a defensive system based on luck isn’t a great idea. I trust that he could do this, but if they do not improve, they might be trouble.

    14. Marco Silva – Everton

I liked what Marco Silva had done with Hull. He turned a side that had less than 18 first team players at the beginning to the season, to giving them a fighting chance to stay up. He continued this good work at Watford, where he made a hard working side with a real attacking drive. It didn’t end well for Silva in London. After accusations that he was starting to look unfocused, after interest from Everton, he was sacked by Watford. It was still understandable. These accusations happened while Watford were in dreadful form, so it was quite understandable. He has since joined Everton, where he has been hit and miss. He has improved the attack. The toffees have went from 9.4 shots a game to 12.1. They’ve already scored 43 goals, one less than they managed in the entirety of last season. He has given some consistency to the team and has given the team some flexibility. They aren’t as predictable as they were under Allerdyce. Richarlison has been a huge signing for them. He has continued in getting into great positions, just like he was at Watford. The difference is he is now scoring them. The attack has improved, but the defence is the problem. Setpieces are the biggest concern. By the 6th of February, no other Premier League side had conceded more goals from set pieces than their 11. They use zonal marking, like many sides, but the problem for a majority of the season is they aren’t very good at it. They have improved slightly in recent weeks, but it just hasn’t been good enough. There was always a huge gap between the goalkeeper and defence, meaning it’s simple as one good ball into the near post would gift a team with a goal. As mentioned, Silva has improved in this area, with their 2-0 win over Chelsea showing this, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Their home form has to be better. If they want to be considered European football contenders, they have to stop losing in a ground once considered one of the toughest to go in England. Silva still seems to have a lot to learn in the game, and it’s why he is so low down on this list.

    13. Javi Gracia – Watford

Now onto Marco Silva’s replacement at Watford. Javi Gracia came in with the job of damage control. Watford had a strong start to the season, but thanks to a very poor winter period, they needed a boost. Gracia did that, and after a summer that saw improvements in the goalkeeper and forward departments. For the first time, Watofrd didn’t go crazy in the transfer market, and instead were willing to get the most out of what they had. Gracia has now built a very direct, aggressive and physical side that are deservingly in the top half of the table. They have been quite fortunate in a handful of games however, with their 5-1 win over Cardiff definitely flattering to decieve, but they have been winning games and playing to their strengths. No other side in the league attacks more centrally than Watford, with 31% of their attacks coming through the middle. He full backs provide width, while Troy Deeney gives an aerial threat that is almost umatched in the league. I like how Gracia has finally made Watford a real tough team, without having to spent much at all. Instead he made a system that gets the most out of the tools he has, and it makes a lot of these players look great. Deulofeu is finally looking like a good footballer, and Jose Holebas is having a real standout season at the age of 32. He’s found a core group of players he can use and the players seem to enjoy what he’s doing.

    12. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United

While many might see this and think why is the current Manchester United manager not even in the top 10 managers in the league, well I have my reasons. I still believe that any manager could have came in and improved the squad in the same or similar manner as the Norwegian has done. United fans a lot of the media see this appointment and love it in the romantic sense, which is understandable. It’s good to see a former player come back and join the club where he had plenty of success, and the fans still love him. But many are overlooking the obvious. The first and most obvious is that any manager could have came in and improved this squad after the disaster that was Jose Mourinho. If a manager came in and just played Pogba and Martial, you would have a clear improvement. It’s why I find what he’s done so far not that impressive. When United have been very fortunate in games against Tottenham and Paris, there is an element of the truth being hidden by the scoreline. United did not deserve that win against Paris. They only created 2 chances, and on any other day, they would not get that comeback. I do like some of the changes that Solskjaer has made, including playing to Rashford’s strengths and bringing the best out of Ander Herrera, but I do think if United want to insert themselves back into the European elite that they so crave, they must at least try and look at someone like Pochettino. With the fans and media both saying that Ole should be given the job permanently, it means the board might not even try looking at a director of football or even another manager. Every top club now has a director of football, someone with a clear view of where the team will be in the next 5 years. Solskjaer could definitely become an elite manager, but having a world class would at least make the prospect of joining United more tempting.

    11. Roy Hodgson – Crystal Palace

Out of all the managers, Hodgson’s position on the list is very questionable. When he arrived at Palace, his failure with England was still fresh in the minds of many, so his appointment was definitely a strange one. He was also 69 at the time, which meant it wasn’t exactly long term. I only think Palace are one of the top 10 teams in the league, and a lot of it is down to Hodgson. He’s the first manager to truly get any sort of consistency out of Wilfred Zaha. He turned Palace into a speed machine. With dynamic fullbacks in Van Aanholt and Wan-Bissaka (one of the best full back pairings in the league) running up and down the wings, and Zaha and Townsend adding that sprinkle of unpredictability, it makes them a very good side against any opposition. They are also aggressive. Wan-Bissaka, McArthur and Milivojevic are all great at winning back the ball. They play in a direct and straight forward way, but it’s so effective. Palace are 7th in shots per game and are 3rd in dribbles. While both are mostly down to Zaha, they are still great to watch. Hodgson has done wonders and done something no one would have expected. I put him over Solskjaer because he pulled off an impossible job at the time, and if Palace just had a striker with actual confidence, they could really fight for a top 10 manager. An old manager who seems to still have a bit of life left in him.

    10. Manuel Pellegrini – West Ham United

Now onto the top 10, and first it’s West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini. West Ham have been a real laughing stock of the Premier League for the last 2 years. unplanned signings, bad protests, owners leaking transfers, hiring David Moyes. These are just a few things that made West Ham impossible to take seriously. It all goes back to that awful stadium move, but after nearly 3 years, they seemed to have finally settled. Last summer was the first time West Ham seemed to make smart business. Issa Diop, Balbuena, Fabianski, Yarmolenko and to top it all off, Felipe Anderson. The Brazilian has been West Ham’s best player all season, and arguably the best player they have had in the last decade. He’s an excellent dribbler and everything good that West Ham do goes through him. Even though he is going through quite a dry patch, with Anderson failing to score in the Premier League in 2019. He has still been really good and has been the boost they need. Pellegrini has mostly used a 4-1-4-1, to give midfield protection and make sure they aren’t exposed on the flanks. It worked well, with the side being great to watch in attack and having the occasional good defensive display. Pellegrini has made them unpredictable to say the least. One game they will put in an unbelievable display and beat Arsenal and Manchester United, and another they conceed 3 to Huddersfield. He has still improved that defence, and has found new life in Snodgrass, Zableta and Cresswell, players previous managers didn’t favour. He’s actually built a functional midfield out of a group of players that I never thought would do anything. Rice is now one of the names on everyone’s lips, with the now England midfielder looking like a solid distributor. There is still plenty of work to be done for Pellegrini, but he has given them a future.

    9. Rafa Benitez – Newcastle United 

How Rafa is still at Newcastle I will never know. The Spaniard has proven to be one of the best defensive managers in Europe. Newcastle have an owner who almost refuses to invest in the club, and it’s left Rafa with one of the squads in the league. Almiron has recently just broken a 14 year old transfer record, held by Michael Owen. He has been a massive boost for them, adding that creative spark they previously didn’t possess. Benitez is in the top 10 for the reason of being able to keep this side in the Premier League. You give this team to any other manager in the bottom half of the table and they would struggle to stay out of the relegation zone. However thanks to Benitez adding that solid defensive structure and midfielders like Hayden and Longstaff covering the backline, it has made them one of the toughest teams to break down. The only reason he is not any higher is because while they are a defensive side, they can be a bit too pragmatic. Throughout the season. Rondon can be seen so isolated, because they are so focused on keeping goals out instead of scoring. This has been different since Almiron’s arrival, so let’s hope Benitez can bring Newcastle back to their glory days.

    8. Brendon Rodgers – Leicester City

This might be one of the toughest to defend, but I do believe Rodgers is a great manager. He gave Liverpool a genuine hope of a title, even if Manchester City were always better (sounds familiar). The problem he had Liverpool were making really bad decisions in the transfer market over and over again, and it left him with a really difficult squad to work with. He did make plenty of mistakes along the way, but his time at Liverpool should still be looked at one a more positive note. He then went to Celtic and actually imprvoed them. They went unbeaten for nearly 2 whole domestic campaigns. While they were embarrased multiple times in Europe, they are Celtic, so not much should be expected. He’s arrived at Leicester with the hope of making them more consistent. Puel is a good manager, but he was making decisions that were baffling at times. Dropping Vardy, putting Pereira as a winger even though he is one of the best tacklers in Europe and starting Morgan way more than he should be. Leicester have the best squad outside of the top 6. Some of the best full backs in the league, One of the best creators and prospects in Maddison and other young players like Ndidi, Chilwell, Iheanacho and Barnes. Rodgers has a great group of players to work with here. He started his first game against Watford with a 3-4-3, and he’s on the right track. Why have wingers when you have incredibly good full backs who will provide plenty of width. It means Maddison can play further up the pitch, and when he’s averaging 2.9 key passes, that’s what you want to do. I am very excited to see where Rodgers will take this side. Next season they could be one of the best attacking sides in the country.

    7. Nuno Esperito Santo – Wolves

Nuno Esperito Santo has taken the Premier League by storm. Wolves are one of many clubs that have risen since massive investment, but one massive difference has been they have constantly made good decisions. During their last season in the Championship, they focused on bringing a handful of players on loan, like Diogo Jota and Willy Boly. Soon as their promotion was confirmed, the first thing they did was sign these guys on a permanent deal, to keep the chemistry in the squad at a high. Great signings like Jimenez, Patricio, Jonny and Moutinho have given them one of the strongest starting 11’s in the league. Nuno was so happy with his side, that he just didn’t change it. He kept the same XI for the first couple of months, because of how good they were performing. Nuno had made the side so difficult to deal with, especially for the big sides. Intelligent passers in midfield, wing backs who comfortable in defending and get into good areas and a defence that has continued so strong from the Championship. The addition of Patricio has made this side even better, adding an experienced goalkeeper with great shot stopping and distribution. Wins against Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea, and taking points off City and Arsenal have made them a side to be feared. The best thing about Nuno is he wasn’t afraid to change it. After a few bad results, the former Porto manager realised a midfield two of Moutinho and Neves just doesn’t have the legs to compete against more energetic midfields. After losing back to back against Huddersfield and Cardiff, Nuno tweaked his side a little and changed from a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2. He dropped Helder Costa, who wasn’t performing consistently enough, and added Dendonker to give the midfield some energy. He has never looked back since. They are now able to control games much better and even counter with better quality, since Jota and Jimenez are now closer together. Nuno has built a side that are great defensively, and create high quality chances. They have a great group of players, and a top level manager to push this side to upset the rest of the league.

    6. Ralph Hassenhuttl – Southampton

Putting a manager who’s side is battling relegation might be quite left field, but there are reasons why he’s so high up. Let’s start with his Leizpig side. Hassenhuttl built a great young side, which saw the best seasons from Emil Forsberg and Naby Keita, and saw them finish runners up in the Bundesliga, ahead of the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. It was clear that the Austrian took insperation from Jurgen Klopp, with the east German side pressing aggressively from the front. It’s what made them such a threat, having players with the ability to go head to head against anyone. Southampton have had a clear drop off since the departure of Ronald Koeman. While Puel wasn’t bad, they were hoping for more from him. Pellegrino turned out to be an awful appointment, but it was the appointment of Mark Hughes that made me almost lose hope in them. Hughes is just really bad and it seemed to be a sign of desperation. However after they finally made the right decision in sacking him back in December, they appointed Hassenhuttl, which was very reminiscent of the smart choices they made in Koeman and Pochettino. He has so far been a success. While he still seemingly struggling to find his best XI, he is making slow progess. For years, Southampton were an example of a side with good full backs, but after both Bertrand and Cedric forgot how to attack, Hassenhuttl put young full backs Matt Targett and Yan Valery into the side, and it has given them a huge boost. Targett has already got 3 assists this season, more than anyone else. While Valery hasn’t been sensational, he has looked very good and shows more courage to attack than Cedric ever did. He has made Southampton better in midfield and has helped Bednerak and Vestergaard establish themselves in the league. If Hassenhuttl is given time and backing, they could go back to a side who were fighting for European football.

    5. Unai Emery – Arsenal

The top 5 from here aren’t really any surprises, but some managers here I haven’t actually spoken about at any point. First is Emery, who while hasn’t been the instant hit, has shown a lot of promise. His appointment back in the summer felt like it was out of nowhere. It’s strange to think that, but I almost forgot that he was available. With Allegri and Tuchel on the lips of all Arsenal fans, it was expected that they would have tried harder for one of them. This isn’t to say Emery is a bad appointment, in fact I really like it. He has always been good at getting the best out of players under his management. While they have not been as good in attack as they were under Wenger, they have improved defensively. Bellerin, Kolasinac and Holding are all having their best seasons in an Arsenal shirt, he has also gotten the best out of the signings. I criticised Arsenal’s business in the summer, and rightly so. They didn’t bring in another defender, since Mustafi just doesn’t look good enough. Sokratis was seen as the worst for me. I never understood all the praise he was getting in the Bundesliga, with his positional sense being questionable at best and his recklessness making him a liability on the pitch. He has not been as good as the likes of Laporte or Rudiger, but has put in some big performances for his side. Emery also has got both Aubameyang and Lacazette firing, with the pair scoring 29 goals in the league. He’s also getting a lot out of fringe players like Guendouzi, Ramsey and Mkhitaryan and Iwobi. He’s given this side a boost and has attempted to even get Ozil to work in his system. He’s been very impressve in some of the big games. Wins against Tottenham, Chelsea and Man United, and even taking points from Liverpool. He has shown versatility and has changed his approach against tougher opponents, known his side can’t out play them. The Europa League will most likely define their season, and they have been very good. While they suffered a big defeat to Rennes away from home, Emery has still been smart in squad rotation. He played a lot of young talent in the group stages, giving them the opportunity to give the manager plenty to think about. Emery won this compeitition 3 times on the bounce, so it’s an area you expect them to succeed in. Progression has been there, but slow. You can trust Emery to advance Arsenal even further in the next couple of years. With the likes of Aybameyang, Sokratis, Ozil and Koscielny all approaching the latter years of their career, there is a lot of work to still be done.

    4. Maurizio Sarri – Chelsea

Sarri has been getting a lot of criticism in recent weeks, and a lot of it is understandable. I still do not understand why he has been playing Ross Barkey over Loftus-Cheek. Barkley isn’t as intelligent as his England teammate, and is poor as a number 8. I do think he has made some mistakes, but it seems the criticism that Chelsea fans are aiming at him is quite extreme, regarding his lack of squad rotation. The Chelsea board should have known what to expect from him. Sarri rarely ever changed his Napoli side, with players barely being given a chance to play. Ounas and Rog didn’t even start a game last season in Serie A, and 10 players started over 30 games. The XI was only changed when Ghoulam suffered a serious injury, which resulted in Mario Rui coming in. Sarri likes to play a core group of players and stick to it. This strict approach has caused some players to miss out on game time, and has also exposed some of the weak areas in the team. Marcos Alonso has shown himself to be one of the worst left backs in the league, with his lack of speed and defensive awareness, it makes him so easy to beat. While I like Azpilicueta, he just doesn’t contribute enough in the final third to justify starting him. Chelsea are already at a massive disadvantage next season. This squad needs a lot of work, and now without the ability to buy players in the summer, it means they cannot improve. Sarri is a great manager, but you need to give him what he wants. He obviously has problems with this squad, but now is unable to solve them. Sarri is still a great manager. His Napoli side was one of the best in Europe at ball progression, and successfully turned Insigne, Koulibaly, Jorginho and Hysaj into some of the best players in their positions. He also got the best years out of Higuain and Hamsik. Sarri’s Chelsea have shown many times that there is definitely potential to see a real great side here, but patience is needed. This isn’t like having Conte or Mourinho, two managers who can instantly improve a side. If Chelsea want to see success under Sarri, they need to give him time, even under the most difficult circumstances. The Blues aren’t exactly in the best position to be looking for managers, so it’s important that Sarri is given the time and resources he needs. He will build a spectacular side, that will challenge across the board. His sides play football in the way the world want to see it be played, and it’s why I constantly defend him. He’s above the likes of Emery and Nuno because I know just how good his sides can be. He has a philosophy and style that guarantees long term success.

     3. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool

While I can assure that my ranking of the last 17 managers has been subjective to say the least, I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed with the next 3. The argument of winning defines a manager is a one I can’t disagree with more. A manager not winning trophies should not discount the work and improvement he has done, and Jurgen Klopp’s work should not be forgotten. He has taken Liverpool back to the top of world football, with smart spending, a positive brand of football and even taking advantage of set pieces, Klopp has added elements to the side that make them challenge contenders. Soon as he arrived in England, players like Henderson, Milner, Coutinho and Lallana all finally started showing the potential they had. He turned Liverpool from a side overreliant on individual talents from the likes of Suarez, Sterling and Coutinho, to building a functioning team with a way of playing that revolves around defending from the front and almost being the weakness to possession sides like a Barcelona or PSG. While the cash has definitely been splashed, with players like Alisson, Van Dijk, Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlein all coming in for big money, but it’s what has to be done. He’s blended big signings with players who can add something to his team. Robertson, Wijnaldum, Shaqiri, Matip and Alexander-Arnold adding some balance to the side. What I’m most impressed about with Klopp is the changes he’s made to his side. Last season, Liverpool were a machine going forward. They were arguably the second best team in the Premier League last season, and even broke the record for most goals in a single Champions League campaign. They were ruthless in the final third, but the other areas of the pitch needed fixing. Bringing in Alisson gave them a better distributor in goal, and adding more of a presence there. He also gave his midfield better ball carriers, with Keita and Fabinho adding that extra bit of quality that improved an area which was exposed in last year’s final. These changes allowed Klopp to play a less heavy metal approach, and give his side a much better defence. They’ve also not been pressing as much, since he wants to compete on all stages, instead of having to focus on a singular competition. While they have had some bad performances this season, Klopp has arguably made the best Liverpool side of the century. They’re flexible, solid and have finally looked like the team that could keep Liverpool as European elite for a long time, and having a manager who gives Liverpool such a scary image is exactly what they needed.

     2. Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Kyle Walker, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld, Heung Min Son. These are just some of the players who’s price tags have sky rocketed since Pochettino arrived in England. the former espanyol manager successfully turned Tottenham from a punchline, into the best side in London. The main reason why he’s so sought after for clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid is because of how he can bring the best out of players, and is incredibily versitile. Pochettino has been able to make plenty of in game adjustments, whether it’s changing from 3 to the back to 4, or adding an extra striker up front. He has given his side the ability to be able to change formation and systems on the fly. The most impressive display from Pochettino was actually against Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Pochettino made roughly 8 in game changes throughout the game. Moving Lucas into a central position, moving Dembele deeper, asking Kane to move a bit deeper. It’s what makes Tottenham so difficult to play at times, because you do not know how they will approach each opponent. While Tottenham have arguably had their worst season since 2014/15, this might actually be Pochettino’s best. He’s been struck with injuries all over the park, and has been using everything he has to get Champions League football. He got a man of the match performance out of Jan Vertonghen at left back, and even got some spectacular performances out of both Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko, a sentence I never thought I would say. He has done so much considering the situation. While they have dropped off in recent weeks, the fact they have stayed this competitive just speaks volumes on how good of a manager Pochettino is.

     1. Pep Guardiola – Manchester City

Who else? Pep Guardiola is not only the best manager in the league, but in the whole in Europe. He has built some of the best sides in the game’s history, and this Man City side is among them.  Pep has built a side that is nearly unbeatable on their day, with their losses usually going down to missing key personel. Many like to point out that Pep didn’t need to do much since his club have spent an obsene amount of money, but these are arguments that hold no real weight. Sure having some top quality talent helps, but Pep’s touch on this side cannot be argued. He turned Raheem Sterling from an inconsistent winger into a certain PFA player of the year contender. John Stones’s reading of the game has grown since his arrival in Manchester. He has even gotten some of the best year’s out of City legends Aguero and Silva. His biggest achievement by far was how he adapted. His first season in charge was definitely a learning curve, with humiliating losses to Everton and Leicester highlighting just how much work needed to be done. He instantly fixed his full back areas, to give his side much more in the wide areas, and to keep Sterling on the right side, and Sane on the left. It was to ensure that they could receive the ball wide, and when you have incredible passers in Silva and De Bruyne, it makes it really easy to beat those deep blocks that City struggled to break down in his first season. When you also add the best distributor in his position in Ederson, it gives City an almost unlimited amount of ways to transition the ball. It’s thanks to having a manager, who has learnt and added more to his game as the years go on. He is the manager that every club wants and dreams of having.

 

5 Premier League Teams to Watch Next Season

With the season arriving in less than a month, let’s look at 5 teams that you should just keep your eye on next season.

Chelsea

For the first time since Ancelotti, Chelsea have an attacking manager. This isn’t to take away from Mourinho and Conte, who both had good spells in charge. But they were always so pragmatic with how they set up their teams. Efficient is easily the best compliment that can be given to both of their title winning teams. But now they finally have brought in a manager who is famed for his attacking style. Sarri is one of my favourite managers in Europe. The team he built in Napoli was just so fun to watch. He was able to bring the best out of the players at his disposal. He turns Dries Mertens into a very good false 9, Insigne into one of the best wingers in Europe, and turned Reina from not good enough for Liverpool, to a very solid goalkeeper. He reminds me of Pep, in his ability to bring the best out of what he has. Speaking of Napoli, the signing of Jorginho was just what they needed. The Italian is a very good game controller, which is an area they have been missing since Fabregas began his decline. Sarri teams like to keep hold of the ball, so bringing in a guy who completes nearly 100 passes per game, is just ideal. However there still many issues for the Blues. The futures of Eden Hazard of Thibaut Courtois are all in doubt, with both heavily linked to a move to the Spanish capital. Both are key players and need to be tied down for the future. Hazard is a player who could finally shine, now with a manager who will not limit him. Courtois has also just came back from a golden glove winning world cup, meaning keeping him should be key. Chelsea are also heavily linked to Russian midfielder Oleksandr Golovin, and if they pull that move off, Chelsea’s midfield should be fixed. While they are not currently in the best place, Chelsea are finally in a place of unknown, which makes it so exciting to see where they go from here.

Arsenal

I think the end of Wenger’s reign couldn’t have ended more horribly. Missing out on champions league football for a second time and having an absolutely terrible away record. There were also huge issues with the team, lacking a good centre half, a defensively minded central midfielder, a competent goalkeeper, and a wide player. The appointment of Unai Emery, while not as high profile as everyone wanted, is still a safe and solid choice. He is known to be a great motivator and trains his players very hard. In fact after their last pre season game, his players went straight back to training, showing how much work needs to be done to have them ready for the new season (or maybe the lack of work Wenger was doing). The signings made have also been mostly fine. While both Leno and Papadopoulos aren’t great players, bringing both in for less than £20m is good business, and are improvements on what they already have. While Lichsteiner is the definition of a short term solution, he will give competition to a very inconsistent Bellerin, and offers good delivery in the final third. The best signing however is easily Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira. He had a breakout season for Sampdoria, giving them a real Kante role. He was a player who was excellent at recovering the ball, and also a fine distributer. He will give some real steel to a midfield that lacks a defensive workhorse. It is the first time in so long that Arsenal will finally be different, which is why it’ll be interesting to see how they perform next season.

Liverpool

While it does hurt to admit, Liverpool have easily made the best business of the window. They have fixed all of their key issues and look ready to challenge Manchester City for the title. While their defense was never a huge issue for them in my opinion (mainly because the way they play result in them looking very leaky), they have improved that with the signing of Allison. While they might have overpaid for him, he was easily the best available option for them in this current market. The Brazilian was brilliant for Roma last season, with only De Gea beating him in stopping expected goals. Allison is a great signing, but it’s their improvement in midfield that is most impressive. My issue with Liverpool’s midfield has always been the lack of flexibility. When playing against teams, like Manchester City, they excel because all of their players are great at pressing and do not need the ball. When they play against teams who would rather sit back, they do not have a central midfielder who is able to carry the ball out effectively and dribble through a midfield. They have brought in one of the best box to box midfielders in Naby Keita, and one of the most well rounded defensive midfielders in Fabinho. Keita is just great at everything. He is able to do the defensive work, is an incredible dribbler and is able to score and create. He will add a player who is able to fill in plenty of roles and who will help the reds keep possession more effectively. Fabinho gives them a real defensive midfielder. While Henderson has performed relatively well, he was never a true DM. Fabinho is one of the best defensive midfielders around, putting in over 4 tackles and interceptions per 90, while also helping in moving the ball, with a very solid 1.1 key passes per 90. He also wins 2.9 aerial rules. Which could mean the centre backs do not have to go towards the ball as much as they do, now with a player who is able to win it further up the pitch. This is a huge season for Jürgen Klopp’s side. Progress will need to be seen, and so far it is definitely there.

West Ham

I have always been so critical in how West Ham have signed players over the last year. They were signing the wrong players and their owners were always making these ridiculous promises. However this window has actually seen some real improvement. Gold and Sullivan decided to bring in Manuel Pellegrini to replace David Moyes. The obvious step up aside, it is a real coup for the hammers. They have finally found a manager who will be able to match the owner’s crazy ambition. What has been even better is the signings. Some smart signings were made very early on, like bringing in Ryan Fredericks on a free, and Fabinaski for less than £10m. They have matched these safe signings with some real ambitious ones, like highly rated youngster Issa Diop from Toulouse, finally giving them another option besides the usual James Collins and Winston Reid. While other signings like Yarmolenko and Wilshere are also pretty good, it’s their signing of Lazio winger Felipe Anderson that has really blown me away. The Brazilian was excellent in Serie A last season. In only 9 starts, he scored 4 and assisted 7. His stats also make for a great read, averaging 1.8 key passes and making 3.7 successful dribbles per 90. One thing that has been great to see in the Premier League is every club having a player good enough for the top 6, now West Ham have their man. They still have some key areas to strengthen, mainly in midfield. While Wilshere is a fine enough addition, that midfield is still missing quality. 3 managers have now fielded a Koyate and Noble midfield, and everytime have shown why it doesn’t work. They will hope that Wilshere can stay fit, and that Obiang has a real breakout season, otherwise they could well struggle to protect the defense. It is still a much improved summer for the Irons.

Fulham

As mentioned, I like seeing all teams have a top 6 quality player. It can be debated on whether Sessegnon is at that level. He isn’t at the moment, but he definitely will if he continues on this path. He just needs to improve in the box, mainly with the amount of shots he takes. Fulham did pull off one of the signings of the season in bringing in Jean Michael Seri from Nice for £27m. This is the same player who has been constantly linked with moves to Arsenal and Chelsea, and has ended up in Fulham. I do actually think this is the best for the player. Seri didn’t have a place in one of those sides because they already had good creators. Both of those teams needed something else (which they did get with in Torreira and Jorginho respectively). But Seri does fit right in for Fulham. One huge issue that some teams have when making that step from the Championship to the Premier League is making the right improvements in the side, while also keeping to what worked. Fulham prefer a possession style, favouring short passes. Seri fits that bill, being a player who’s speciality is his ability on the ball. He averages 86 passes with a 90% accuracy, which shows how he is able to help keep possession effectively. He also averages a very good 2.1 key passes, better than captain Tom Cairney’s 1.9. It is clear they have found that extra bit of quality in their team, to help them stay up. At the time of writing, they are also close to signing Andre Schurrle from Dortmund. If they pull that off, then the rest of the league should keep an eye on them.