The landscape has changed dramatically both on Merseyside and in London as Everton and Arsenal approach this weekend’s blockbuster bout on the cusp of club-defining appointments.
The Gunners wielded the axe on Unai Emery last month, bringing an end to his 18-month tenure after fans grew tired of his polarising line-ups, persistent system changes and a quite shocking autumnal form.
Club legend and Invincible Freddie Ljungberg stepped into the frame as interim coach but Arsenal have continued to frustrate and wilt when pitted against competent opposition.
As such, it was announced on Friday that Mikel Arteta will take charge on Sunday, meaning Ljungberg will bow out after the early kick-off on Saturday.
For the Toffees, Marco Silva saw his 19-month reign come to an end earlier this month, with Duncan Ferguson taking the helm and immediately overseeing a mini-revolution. However, it is now looking increasingly likely that serial-winner Carlo Ancelotti will step into uncharted territory at the foot of the Premier League table and become Farhad Moshiri’s latest managerial acquisition.
However, until then Ferguson remains in control and will go head-to-head with Ljungberg in the Swede’s final match.
The next few days will certainly be interesting, but what can we expect from this intriguing matchup? Will Ancelotti and Arteta have influences from afar?
1. A Guardiola-esque Arsenal
Even though Arteta does not officially take charge at Arsenal until Sunday, the Spaniard’s arrival have an impact in the Gunners’ game against Everton.
There can be no getting away from the fact that Arsenal are recruiting Arteta in the hope that some of Guardiola’s managerial magic has rubbed off on him.
A disciple of Cruyffian football, Guardiola has popularised the art of ball retention in the modern game and Arteta will certainly look to bring that passing philosophy with him to the Emirates.
If Ljungberg looks to ready the troops for Arteta’s arrival, it could mean a deviation from Arsenal’s current 4-2-3-1 and the introduction of a 4-3-3 formation, looking to recreate the sort of vertical tiki-taka system immortalised in Manchester.
The biggest dilemma facing Ljungberg in this regard will be in central midfield and whether Arsenal have the requisite players to truly thrive in this system. With Dani Ceballos currently sidelined, Lucas Torreira out of sorts and Granit Xhaka’s career in limbo, it could prove exceptionally difficult for Ljungberg to try and recreate the kind of elegant midfield trident that has proven so effective at the Etihad.
But the Swede may want to indoctrinate Arteta’s potential system from the off, so we may very well see a 4-3-3 at Goodison Park regardless, but how would it look? Well, Matteo Guendouzi will likely sit at the base, setting the tempo and recycling possession, while Ceballos will function just in front of the Frenchman, almost in a dynamic No. 8 role similar to that of Ilkay Gundogan.
And this is where things could get interesting. Kevin De Bruyne naturally takes up an advanced role in the midfield three for City, and he has previously credited Arteta with improving his game, so could the Spaniard try to work his golden touch with Ozil as well when he arrives?
That would mean the German dropping deeper and looking to initiate attacking moves rather drifting between the lines further up the pitch. It’s a risk given Ozil’s waning form and unhurried demeanour, but it could prove the change needed to spark new life into this sleeping genius.
Arsenal have proven exceptionally cumbersome and languid this season, and even with the introduction of Ljungberg, a club legend and fan favourite, the football on display has too often lacked the energy and desire needed to compete consistently in the Premier League.
The managerial bounce that usually elicits a more intense and fervent style of play has so far eluded the club, but the appointment of Arteta should instil a more determined and dogged mentality amongst his soon-to-be players.
Why? Well in 2014 the former Arsenal midfielder gave a comprehensive interview to the club’s official website, where he outlined his intentions to step into management at some point during his post-playing career, while also giving a brief analysis on his philosophy.
“My philosophy will be clear,” he said. “I will have everyone 120 per cent committed, that’s the first thing. If not, you don’t play for me.
“When it’s time to work it’s time to work, and when it’s time to have fun then I’m the first one to do it, but that commitment is vital. Then I want the football to be expressive, entertaining. I cannot have a concept of football where everything is based on the opposition.
“We have to dictate the game, we have to be the ones taking the initiative, and we have to entertain the people coming to watch us. I’m 100 per cent convinced of those things, and I think I could do it.”
Anyone who fails to give his all on the pitch will soon fall out of favour with Arteta, so expect a more energised and committed Arsenal on Saturday.
3. Ferguson’s 4-4-2 to continue
Ferguson’s more traditional 4-4-2 has yielded an upturn in fortunes as well as performances, culminating in a 3-1 win over Chelsea and a commendable draw against an inform Manchester United.
Even the penalty shootout defeat to Leicester City in midweek brought a positive display and their comeback from 2-0 down showed signs of the impact Ferguson is having on the Everton squad.
Saturday may be Ferguson’s last hurrah as Everton’s interim manager, but if Ancelotti does eventually come in, there won’t be much deviation in terms of formation with the Italian also favouring a two-man strike force. This means Everton’s 4-4-2 is likely to continue against Arsenal and it makes complete sense as well.
The Gunners have proven susceptible, nervous and exceptionally vulnerable at the back, so pragmatism suggests a two-man attack could work best to unsettle the likes of Sokratis and Calum Chambers.
Proving this system can work with the players at Everton’s disposal, Ferguson will be leaving a blueprint for Ancelotti to step into the equation and put his own Italian spin on the interim manager’s short but excellent work.
4. Moise Kean to start on the bench again
He has been the subject of uncertainty this season after he failed to cement a starting berth under Silva and then faced the ultimate humiliation by being brought on at Old Trafford only to be withdrawn by Ferguson just 19 minutes later.
Well, Kean’s tempestuous start to life on Merseyside may be about to take a sudden and upward twist, as compatriot Ancelotti has previously outlined his admiration for the young Italian marksman.
During Kean’s time at Juventus, Ancelotti stated back in April: “I was impressed and surprised by Kean.
“His beginning of the year was amazing and there’s been careful management of the player, on and off the field.
“He has the good fortune of training with a phenomenon of the calibre of Cristiano [Ronaldo].”
However, until Ancelotti does arrive, Kean will likely have to make do with a spot on the bench as Ferguson favours Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
Kean was given 45 minutes in the Carabao Cup defeat to Leicester with Everton chasing the game and he did put himself about well, but it doesn’t seem like it was enough to displace either of the strikers.
5. A likely goal fest
As touched on, both these sides have spent far too much time bolstering their frontlines over the years and falling short when it comes to creating a well-balanced defence, leading to both fragility and uncertainty in front of Bernd Leno and Jordan Pickford.
Tightening up at the back and creating a more formidable defensive structure will be high up on the agenda for both Ancelotti and Arteta, but with neither taking charge for the game, expect more of the same for Ferguson and Ljungberg’s men.
There is a lot of work that needs doing for each manager, but for the time being, the shortcomings and inadequacies that have followed both these clubs in defence this season will likely play a key role in the outcome of this weekend’s contest.
As such, we could be in for a high-scoring encounter. Arsenal have more than enough quality in attack to really cause issues and create havoc on Merseyside, while Everton boast a similarly proficient frontline, so expect goals – and lots of them.
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