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Pep Guardiola will get Man City over the line – but it is only delaying Arsenal’s success

Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta - Pep Guardiola will get Manchester City over the line – but it is only delaying Arsenal's success

If Manchester City get over the line on Sunday and are crowned Premier League champions for an unprecedented fourth season in a row it will be because of one over-riding reason: the iron will of Pep Guardiola.

The City manager is in the groove that Sir Alex Ferguson found himself in at Manchester United. Some of their title triumphs, not least their last one in Ferguson’s final season, 2012-13, felt like they were because of his force of personality more than anything. It broke the opposition.

Because of the way they are set up, when Guardiola eventually goes, City will certainly not suffer the calamitous drop-off that United have endured after Ferguson’s retirement. But they will not be the same. They just cannot be. It will be impossible for them to find a coach who matches Guardiola and maintains the intensity.

And that is without mentioning what will happen if City are found guilty of the 115 charges they face for alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play rules.

The bare fact those charges have not been dealt with is an embarrassment to the Premier League. They may be trying to ensure due process takes place but the delays, the obfuscation and the secrecy are not a good look, especially in a season where we have had points taken off, added on, taken off again for Everton with Nottingham Forest also punished. Credibility is hard earned and easily lost and this has not been a good campaign for the Premier League, which is all the more unfortunate given the thrilling title race that has unfolded.

Pep Guardiola will get Manchester City over the line – but it is only delaying Arsenal's success
Everton fans have repeatedly protested against the Premier League following their club's points deduction - Getty Images/Shaun Botterill

Demotion, even further down the leagues than the Championship, cannot be ruled out for City given the sheer scale of the charges.

Guardiola also has only one more year left on his contract after this season and there are growing signs that this may actually be his final deal. The 53-year-old joined City in 2016 and if he sees out his contract that will be nine years at the club – by far his longest-ever stay – and a very long stretch given the demands and scrutiny upon him as we have seen with Jürgen Klopp’s decision to step down from Liverpool after exactly that period in charge. He “ran out of energy”.

With the expectation that City’s case may be heard by the autumn, and verdicts delivered next year – possibly followed by lengthy appeals – the timing may all coincide with Guardiola’s departure.

But while that largely remains supposition, there is a growing body of evidence to back up the belief that even if Arsenal do not win the title this season they will do so sooner rather than later.

If last season’s title challenge was unexpected for Arsenal – meaning accusations of choking remain harsh – then this campaign has had the feeling of something far more substantial.

Without Guardiola at City, Arsenal would be champions. But such is their trajectory that they are not failing to take “one-off” chances here but are building towards being a formidable proposition and even forcing it to the final day is a remarkable achievement.

In 2021-22, Arsenal finished fifth. Last season – with the second youngest team – it was second. This season – with the third youngest – it will be no worse than second. If they beat Everton they will have won 16 of their last 18 League games; they have already won 27, their most ever in the Premier League, even more than the Invincibles. They have their highest goals total, 89, and the best defence and goal difference. They have lost only once in the league in 2024 and it is that 2-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa which may well cost them. Those are title-winning statistics but, as Klopp ruefully knows, winning just one league title at Liverpool, even those are not always enough against Guardiola.

Jürgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola - Pep Guardiola will get Manchester City over the line – but it is only delaying Arsenal's success
Jürgen Klopp (left) knows better than most how difficult it is to finish above Guardiola's Manchester City side - Getty Images/Oli Scarff

But there is a sense that City have slightly got away with it this season. They have not quite hit the heights of the last campaign, if that would ever be possible, and it was a summer transfer window that they did not get right. Going all in for Jude Bellingham, only to lose out to Real Madrid, left them unbalanced. The departures of Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez took a lot of goals out of the team and Kevin De Bruyne’s injury hit hard. Matheus Nunes and Mateo Kovacic have not been upgrades and it will be interesting to see how active they are this summer and not least as an indicator of where Guardiola’s mind is at.

Against that, Arsenal have continued to shrewdly assemble a team packed with potential, weeding out the weaknesses, which is already delivering. The likes of Martin Odegaard (25), William Saliba (23), Declan Rice (25) and Bukayo Saka (22) will only get better. The re-modelling of their squad in the past few transfer windows has been seriously impressive and there are no signs of that letting up. They are again used to the demands of playing in the Champions League and competing in the Premier League. Momentum is with them.

Klopp’s Liverpool were obviously the side that drove City closest and thankfully gave us title races when Guardiola was threatening to turn them into processions. Now that mantle has been taken on by Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal. While it has been an exciting race it is also (whisper it) a bit predictable, as it was when Liverpool and City went head-to-head, because they both just keep winning every week. But that is not their fault.

There is a difference, however. It might be slight. It might even be temporary. It could easily and quickly change. But Arsenal do give the air of a team who have not reached their peak while City, at present, look like one which has already done so. In the coming seasons that might just change the dynamic.

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