The FA Cup is not going to rescue the season for Arsenal or Manchester City, Sunday’s semi-finalists at Wembley. Only a top-four finish will give Arsène Wenger ammunition with which to reply to his detractors and while City currently look the more capable of achieving that in this most competitive of seasons, Pep Guardiola is aware it is nowhere near enough.
“I am happy that we have made some progress this season but I cannot expect the owners to feel the same way,” the City manager says with disarming frankness. “The potential of this club is so much higher.”
Manuel Pellegrini secured fourth place last season, won the League Cup and took City to a Champions League semi-final, a performance the club hierarchy let it be known represented the bare minimum for their investment.
Guardiola was clearly supposed to be an upgrade and does not need telling – though he is being told – that he has failed. “I expect to be judged in the same way,” he says. “Why should anyone make an exception for me? I was a lucky guy.
I was manager of Messi, manager of Bayern Munich, that’s why we won a lot. I cannot change the past. I would have preferred to come here with no expectation, or with low expectation, but I came here to prove myself when I could have stayed there being successful.”
Guardiola is well aware that his decision to move to England could be regarded as his first real challenge in management.
That is not to make light of the difficulty of competing with Real Madrid or winning the Bundesliga three years in succession but, as he says, he inherited a Barcelona team already full of wonderful talents, while the remit at Bayern Munich was merely to keep the strongest side in Germany on track.
Guiding City to similar heights was always going to be a trickier proposition, even before factoring in the immense improvement at Chelsea and Tottenham this season.