It’s shaping up to be the best Premier League title race in many years. Things can change in an instant, but Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester City all currently look like genuine contenders.
It’s important to distinguish ‘best’ from ‘highest-quality’. If one thing seems certain, it is that the 2023/24 champion will accumulate fewer points than any winner of the past few seasons, with all of the teams in the frame showing vulnerabilities.
But that’s a welcome change, with near-perfection having been demanded of anyone hoping to go up against Pep Guardiola’s behemoth in recent years. A slight drop in standards from Manchester City following its treble has blown the door wide open, and the spectacle is all the better for it.
Mikel Arteta will hope to learn from his experience last season to stay the distance with Arsenal this time around, while Jürgen Klopp knows better than anyone what it takes to challenge Guardiola and win. Tentatively, both of them will be encouraged by recent signs from the Manchester City boss.
When he has his team side playing at its best, Guardiola has near-enough completed football. Coaching one of the best collections of players ever assembled — the validity of how Manchester City got to this point will eventually be decided by an independent panel — the former Barcelona manager has created a true juggernaut.
But Liverpool is one of the few sides who can say it has repeatedly found chinks in Guardiola’s armor over the years. Arteta will know them well, too, having seen it all happen close up as the Catalan’s assistant at Manchester City.
One thing that’s telling is the reverence with which Arteta approaches Liverpool games. The clip from All or Nothing is now infamous — preparing for a trip to Anfield, the Arsenal boss pumped ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ through the speakers in training. He had seen Manchester City wilt enough times to know it was worth a go.
Liverpool has often managed to get under Manchester City’s skin. That all stems from the manager, who — for want of a more sophisticated word — does have a tendency to get rattled.
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That’s all wrapped up in Guardiola’s reputation for ‘overthinking’ certain games. In fairness, that’s always been harsh; it’s a label only ever applied when his experiments go wrong, and plenty more have gone exactly as planned.
But there’s no denying that he sometimes lets himself get worked up. And an unprovoked swipe at Arteta after the Spurs draw suggested he has become agitated again — when asked about the controversial late decision which saw Jack Grealish denied a chance at a one-versus-one, Guardiola said he will not make a ‘Mikel Arteta comment’.
That was in reference to his old assistant’s recent officiating rant, one which was bizarrely backed up by an Arsenal club statement. But asked about Guardiola’s remarks (via the Mirror), Arteta simply laughed them off, adding he has ‘enough’ on his own plate without getting sucked into this.
Arteta is right to laugh, and Klopp might allow himself a smile too. Whereas last season it always seemed like Manchester City was just waiting to click and reassert itself, Guardiola seems to be flailing for answers a little more this time around — and if he’s throwing out cheap shots, perhaps he’s coming up blank.
Of course, predicting any prolonged downturn for Manchester City would be a recklessly brave call. All past evidence suggests that if there is a problem, Guardiola will ultimately fix it. But in the meantime, these dropped points could be crucial, and Arteta and Klopp will be more than happy to soak up any more jibes that might come their way.