With the 2022/23 Premier League season drawing to a close, awards season is upon us. On the 13th May, a six-man shortlist for the coveted Manager of The Season Award was announced. Now that the dust has settled, I look to make a case for why and why not each manager should win the award – ahead of the official announcement on Tuesday 30th May.
This award concerns only performances in the Premier League this season – not cup competitions! I will assess each nominee’s chances based on a few factors: most importantly, did the manager achieve their objective? Further, how much did they go beyond their target? Let’s find out how each nominee stacks up.
Mikel Arteta – Arsenal
There has been much conjecture surrounding Arsenal’s failure to capitalise on their dominance over the Premier League. Spending a massive 248 days on top, the Gunners set an unwanted record for the longest time spent leading the top-flight without being crowned as champions. Despite losing out on the silverware, Arsenal’s season should still undoubtedly be looked back on as a very successful one.
This is the Arsenal’s best finish since the 2015/16 season. They’ve moved up three places compared to last term, and will make a long-awaited return to the Champions League. Victory on the final day over Wolves secured the Gunners a 26th win – equaling their highest ever wins total in a Premier League season. Statistically the North London club have looked good; posting a very healthy xG difference of +29.5 (3rd highest in the division), and outscoring their xG by +12.6 (2nd highest in the division).
All this success has been achieved with the youngest starting eleven in the league! They were only outranked by the financial behemoth of Manchester City, managed by Arteta’s mentor: Pep Guardiola. Although the student has not yet become the master; Arteta has certainly dragged Arsenal back to the big time.
Roberto De Zerbi – Brighton
Brighton have been the surprise package of the Premier League this season – winning over neutrals by playing exciting football. Graham Potter’s side continued their upward trajectory from the previous season, but after six matches, Chelsea made Potter an offer that he simply could not refuse. Former Shakhtar Donetsk boss Roberto De Zerbi stepped in to steady the ship on the South Coast, in a move seen as a risk by many. Those doubters included Graeme Souness, who claimed that the Italian ‘doesn’t know our game.‘ The ex-footballer’s claim seemed to hold some weight at first, as Brighton did not win any of their first 5 matches under their new coach – but their first win came in a dominating 4-1 victory over the departed Potter’s Chelsea.
From then on, De Zerbi’s team picked up 1.76 points per game over the next 25 fixtures, with standout performances in victories over Liverpool, Wolves, and Arsenal – even holding the Champions to a 1-1 draw! This was enough to see a record finish in the Premier League for the Seagulls, and they will venture into European competition for the first time in their history next season – not bad for a manager who ‘doesn’t know our game.‘
Unai Emery – Aston Villa
From one manager who joined midway through the season to another, the four-time UEFA Europa League winning manager Unai Emery succeeded Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa. Gerrard endured a disastrous start to the season – winning just 2 out of 11 fixtures! When the ex-Arsenal manager was appointed, Villa were in the bottom four and at serious risk of relegation. What came next was one of the most immediate, and dramatic, turnarounds in Premier League history.
The new man in the Villa Park dugout won 14 times in the next 24 games – sky-rocketing Villa into the top half! Several club records have also been broken during Emery’s tenure, including the most clean sheets for a keeper in 100 games, most consecutive goals in Premier League matches, and the most consecutive goals in away matches. Ollie Watkins achieved the latter two records, and he English international’s superb form helped the Villans score in each of their first 20 league matches under Emery – a league record.
This Aston Villa squad was very capable of staying up no matter who was managing – that was the minimum requirement before a ball was kicked in the 2022/23 season. Emery has far surpassed these expectations, securing a best placing since the 2010/11 season. Victory in their final league game sees European nights return to Villa Park for the first time in 13 years. If this isn’t enough to win manager of the season; I don’t know what is!
Pep Guardiola – Manchester City
Despite a surprise resistance from Arsenal, Pep Guardiola has masterminded Manchester City to a third consecutive Premier league title, and his fifth in total. Although only taking the top spot from Arsenal after matchday 32, City dominated the league statistically. Guardiola’s side have the most wins, most points, highest goal difference, highest xG difference, and highest goals minus xG – utter domination!
Surely, Pep joins Sir Alex as the only manager to win four manager season of the awards, right? Not necessarily, as it could be argued that this sort of domination on the pitch is to be expected based off the financial domination of it. The Citizens already had the best squad in the league, to which they added the most sought-after footballer in the world over the summer. City have a squad value of €1.05bn – the highest in the division, accounting for over 10% of the market value of the entire league in total.
Guardiola has done nothing more than achieve the minimum required of him – far less than all other managers on this list. I feel as the title winning manager, his nomination for the best manager is a bit of a token. With serious accusations of financial foul play looming over the club, this title and indeed all other titles they’ve won must be called into question. Is this fair?
Eddie Howe – Newcastle
Eddie Howe has certainly continued his upwards trajectory from last season, fulfilling his enormous managerial potential from his youth. Having saved the club from relegation last season, they’ve now qualified for the Champions League – and the Magpies will now play in Europe’s elite competion for the first time in twenty years.
The key to Newcastle’s best Premier League finish since the 2002/03 season has been a rock-solid defence. Key summer signings Sven Botman and Nick Pope have fortified Newcastle’s defensive output, and they boast the (joint) fewest goals conceded, second most clean sheets, and highest ariel dual win percentage in the division. This defensive masterclass has led to only five league defeats all season!
It cannot be understated that significant investment was made in the summer by new ownership. They will expect more in coming seasons. Excellent recruitment by Howe and his team has had Newcastle fulfilling these lofty ambitions, much earlier than expected.
Marco Silva – Fulham
Well, who saw this coming then? As one of the three promoted teams, Fulham were one of the favourites for relegation this term before a ball was even kicked. Whilst possessing the second least valuable squad in the league, Marco Silva’s side have looked like an established Premier League team and achieved a far higher placement than most would have expected. After 32 matches, the Cottagers were mathematically safe from relegation – but in truth, they never looked to be in danger of the drop. Fulham achieved the 35 points needed to stay up in mid-February, after only 23 matches.
Silva’s side even had fans dreaming of the famous European nights of 2009/10 for much of this term. Unfortunately for the Cottagers, it wasn’t to be as they experienced a noticeable drop in form since being ‘on the beach’, – picking up 10 less points in the second half of the season compared to the first. If they had mirrored their points tally from their opening nineteen games, they would have qualified for the UEFA Europa Conference League. Regardless, Fulham record their best league finish since the 2011/12 season.