Cases for and against sacking five favourites for the chop

We first did this back in late September. One of those managers is now top of the Premier League. Two are still in the bookies’ five favourites to be first out of a job. Welcome Arteta and his chums to the gang.

Chris Wilder – best price 11/4

Why Sheffield United will sack him: One point in 11 Premier League games. Five goals in 11 Premier League games. One goal from open play in 11 Premier League games. A run of 13 defeats in 15 matches – the outliers being a last-gasp, penalty-inspired draw with Fulham and a League Cup second-round shootout exit at Burnley. They are spared the record of worst Premier League start ever only by a 2009/10 Portsmouth side doomed by a points deduction. They have already faced the teams that finished 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 16th and 17th, as well as all three promoted sides, so can neither claim to excel against elite opposition nor thrive against fellow strugglers. They rank third for most shots conceded per game, joint-18th for pass completion, 19th for shots per game and 20th for possession.

Chris Wilder’s interview after the Leicester defeat – “How do I pick up the players from this? How do I pick them up from the week before and the week before that?” – sounded more like an actual plea for advice from a coach running out of ideas than public rhetorical musings.

Why they won’t: He took them into the top flight against all odds, then consolidated that by finishing 9th with a squad that would not look particularly out of place in the Championship. Injuries have impacted Wilder’s preparation more than most of his contemporaries, even close friend Jurgen Klopp. So, too, the lack of fans to push Sheffield United on and give them the intangible extra five or so per cent needed to bridge the gap in quality. Eight of their ten losses have also been by a single goal so it is not as though they are getting thrashed each week; these are fine margins they are falling to, not obvious issues that can be identified and rectified by a simple change in management.

Plus who would they even appoint? Sam Allardyce is the usual choice for a panicking Premier League club but there is no fire to fight at Bramall Lane, no defence in particular need of shoring up. They would be well-advised to look at Burnley, taken up by Sean Dyche in 2013/14, relegated immediately but promoted again as champions in 2015/16 and established as a top-flight side thereafter. United already have the best possible man in charge if they drop into the lower leagues.

Slaven Bilic – best price 9/2

Why West Brom will sack him: Tensions that simmered away throughout the summer with regards to recruitment have threatened to spill over a few times this season. Bilic knew he was not appropriately equipped for a Premier League campaign and so it has proved: West Brom have not ventured above 17th, have the worst defensive record of any side and score more often than only the teams directly above and below them. They can point to a lack of fortune that cost them possible results against Everton, Manchester United and Crystal Palace but in two of those games they went on to concede five goals in defeat. As unfair as it might seem to part with Bilic – he is nowhere near their biggest problem – managerial casualty is a natural byproduct of winning one league game in 150 days. It wouldn’t cost them either; his contract expires in the summer.

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Why they won’t: Again, who could West Brom attract that would do a better job? What coach is not only available but willing to risk tainting their CV with relegation by taking charge of one of the three worst clubs in the division on what would surely be a short-term deal? This is a team in a precarious financial position who were promoted to the Premier League ahead of schedule, already with perhaps the best and most experienced boss they could hope for. If they were further adrift it might make more sense to twist and cross fingers that it sparks a bounce of some sort, but they are a single point from safety as it is with Newcastle coming up in their next fixture.

Mikel Arteta – best price 11/2

Why Arsenal will sack him: It’s December and Arsenal have more points in the Europa League than in the Premier League. The Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang situation is a confusing and confused mess. Mesut Ozil remains sidelined by a club plagued with creativity problems, employed to live-tweet Arsenal’s latest crossing sessions while interacting more with Piers Morgan than his actual manager. Hector Bellerin has taken five foul throws. They are no longer losing games narrowly as a result of decisive actions that could go either way, but are instead being outplayed and failing to react to the opponent’s tactics adequately. Sunday was particularly damning for Arteta. It is reaching the stage where Roy Keane’s apparent joke actually seems more like an entirely serious assessment.

Why they won’t: “That’s recognition of what he’s been doing from the day he walked in the door, but also where we see his capabilities,” said Arsenal chief executive Vinai Venkatesham of promoting Arteta from head coach to first-team manager in September. With that came added responsibilities: “to manage all the other elements of our football operations,” such as player recruitment, sales and other business things that might require the ownership of a suit. It was a reward, a show of faith and trust in Arteta for transforming the post-Unai Emery mood, securing some huge results, winning the FA Cup, overseeing an ostensibly promising summer transfer window and dragging Arsenal towards a more professional, transparent, dynamic and modern future. He ripped it all up to start afresh; any replacement would either have to do the same or slot into a hierarchy built specifically for Arteta himself.

Scott Parker – best price 15/2

Why Fulham will sack him: Shahid Khan has been Fulham owner in two full Premier League seasons and employed three different managers both times. Martin Jol started 2013/14 in charge but lasted 13 games and was sacked in 18th. Slavisa Jokanovic began 2018/19, managed 12 matches and was 20th when he left. Parker has Fulham 17th after 11 games; don’t lose your next game, pal.

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Liverpool at home. Oh.

Why they won’t: They shouldn’t. At all. Parker signed a new three-year contract in September and that statement of support has been reciprocated by a general rise in performance levels. A dreadful start saw them concede ten goals in their opening three games but they have allowed only 11 in the eight matches since, holding firm against fellow relegation candidates Sheffield United and West Brom but also proving themselves capable of springing the sort of surprise that Leicester never saw coming. Fulham have actually been alright and would be foolish to parachute in anymore cheese doctors to salvage a situation that looks entirely within the current manager’s control.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – best price 9/1

Why Manchester United will sack him: The tactic of conceding first to win from behind will properly backfire at some point, akin to when one-man team Bruno Fernandes scoring in the second minute pissed Tottenham off to the tune of six unanswered goals in response. Although “making it difficult for ourselves” is indeed The Actual United Way. It probably depends on whether they secure a positive result in Leipzig and thus remain in the Champions League but honestly it really might not. Solskjaer retains the absolute faith of Ed Woodward and the past two years of turning United off at the back then on again to force a cultural reset would be rendered remarkably pointless by sacking him when they’re somehow five points off the top with a game in hand.

Why they won’t: They never will. Solskjaer will constantly peer over the precipice before overseeing a run of results to spare him. One week he will be under immense pressure as his position seems untenable. The next he will do a big old counter-attacking win. It will eventually reach a stage where United issue public votes of confidence in the manager at half-time of every single game, before Solskjaer emerges with that sodding grin etched across his face at full-time. He exists purely to make people look stupid. Often himself. But usually others. And the noodle sponsors love it.

Matt Stead

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