Arsenal vs Everton: What have Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti changed?
Watch Arsenal vs Everton live on Sky Sports Premier League - kick-off 4.30pm - on Super Sunday with highlights on the Sky Sports app, website and Sky Sports Football YouTube channel
By Ben Grounds and Nick Wright
Last Updated: 23/02/20 4:43pm
Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti were both sat thinking the same thing in the stands.
Arsenal's goalless draw at Everton before Christmas had been a hard watch; it was the last game for the caretaker managers, Duncan Ferguson and Freddie Ljungberg, and, in truth, it was a non-event.
The drab stalemate highlighted the size of the tasks ahead, but with the two sides set to face each other once more at the Emirates Stadium this Sunday, live on Sky Sports, the outlook is far brighter for both. So how have Arteta and Ancelotti managed to change their sides' fortunes and restore optimism among supporters?
Arteta opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation in his first game in charge, the 1-1 draw at Bournemouth on Boxing Day, and it is a system that the Spaniard has stuck to for all eight of his Premier League games so far - albeit with slight adjustments, including Bukayo Saka's advanced positioning in the left-back role and Granit Xhaka dropping back to provide cover behind him.
One noticeable change from the Unai Emery era, however, has been Arteta's reluctance to make impulsive changes within a game if things haven't quite gone according to plan. Arsenal were pedestrian during the first half against Leeds in the FA Cup, for example, but while Emery might have made half-time changes to his system and personnel, the new head coach let the game breathe and it paid off as they fought back to win 1-0.
Arteta has generally preferred to allow his starters to respond to his team-talks, and this was evident once more last weekend. Newcastle had the better of the opening half at the Emirates Stadium, but Arsenal responded strongly to put four goals past them after the break.
So while the formation itself may not have changed dramatically under Arteta, the way in which he has stuck to it, and the manner in which he has persisted with his players, has been a key difference. The Arsenal squad, so confused under Emery, now knows exactly what is expected.
The circumstances surrounding Ancelotti's arrival at Goodison were different to the malaise that had set in at Arsenal. Ferguson had laid down a blueprint for success by partnering Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison up front as part of a 4-4-2 formation, and the preferred system under the Italian is a legacy of the Scot's brief tenure.
It should be said that the former Napoli boss has earned 17 points from his eight Premier League games, however, from being flexible.
In the victory at Newcastle in late December, Ancelotti started out with an offensive 4-4-2, but following Fabian Schar's equaliser, he recognised the need to re-energise his midfield, moving the booked Tom Davies to the left and introducing Fabian Delph, while deploying Djibril Sidibe in front of Seamus Coleman on the right.
With both Coleman and Sidibe on the pitch, this enabled Everton to switch to a 3-5-2 when not in possession. It is a tactic Ancelotti has used on more than one occasion, and it may well be his side's best route to victory once again this weekend.
There can be little doubt that Arteta has improved Arsenal defensively. They are far better organised and considerably more compact than they were under Emery, and it can be seen in the numbers.
Thursday's 1-0 win in Olympiakos made it three consecutive clean sheets in all competitions for the Gunners. In the Premier League, they have gone from giving up 16 shots per game to just 12 per game under Arteta. As a result, they are conceding less than a goal per game compared to 1.5 per game beforehand.
Saka has become a key figure at left-back, showing improvement defensively and offering considerable threat on the overlap, while Hector Bellerin has displaced Ainsley Maitland-Niles at right-back, playing a slightly more conservative role than Saka on the opposite flank.
David Luiz has started every Premier League game under Arteta, with the new head coach eager to harness both his leadership qualities and his ball-playing abilities. Alongside him at centre-back, the previously out-of-favour Shkodran Mustafi appears to have usurped Sokratis.
Under Marco Silva, Everton struggled to shake off a bad habit of conceding from set pieces. They shipped 16 goals from such situations in the Premier League last season - more than any other side, and their Achilles heel contributed to Silva's demise in the 5-2 defeat at Liverpool in early December.
Interestingly, Ancelotti has returned to a similar form of zonal marking at corners and free kicks. It proved unsuccessful during the 1-1 draw with West Ham last month, as Issa Diop rose between the Everton defenders to nod the Hammers in front.
Old habits die hard, as seen again during the remarkable late collapse in the 2-2 draw with Newcastle, with both Florian Lejeune goals coming as a result of Everton not reacting well to the second ball at set plays.
Everton have kept two clean sheets from their eight Premier League games under Ancelotti. They are conceding just 1.1 goals per game compared to 1.6 before. The Italian will demand continued improvement in this area, but the early signs are promising and the performances of Mason Holgate have provided plenty of encouragement too.
While the versatile 23-year-old looks primed to take his game to the next level, Ancelotti will hope to see similar improvements in goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who was at fault for Crystal Palace's equaliser in the 3-1 win at Goodison Park prior to the winter break.
Arsenal's attack finally clicked under Arteta in the second half of last weekend's meeting with Newcastle at the Emirates Stadium, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Mesut Ozil all on target before Alexandre Lacazette struck a late fourth to break a nine-game scoring drought.
Arteta will hope it is a sign of what's to come, because until then his Arsenal side had only shown flashes of their attacking potential. Overall, Arsenal are actually averaging fewer shots per game than they were under Emery and their average possession rate is slightly lower too.
Despite that, the Newcastle game was not the only one in which Arsenal have shown promising signs. Last week, Arteta told Sky Sports that restoring Arsenal's identity as a fluid, attacking force was fundamental to his plans for the club, and there is already far greater clarity about the team's style and approach. The build-up play is smoother, the counter-attacking more clinical.
Gabriel Martinelli's fine form has added to the sense of optimism about the future, while Mesut Ozil's improvement provides encouragement too. The German is one of only three players to have started every Premier League game under Arteta. He is picking up possession in dangerous areas again and working harder than ever off the ball. His goal against Newcastle on Sunday ended a 10-month dry spell.
Behind him, Granit Xhaka has been reinvigorated under Arteta after it appeared he might leave the club, while on-loan midfielder Dani Ceballos - another player who was reportedly considering his future in north London - has fought his way into the team and provided another source of creativity in a side which is gradually rediscovering its identity.
Everton's attack has been the biggest area of improvement under Ancelotti, with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Richarlison combining to deadly effect under the new manager.
Calvert-Lewin has scored six goals in eight Premier League appearances under him, while Richarlison has been similarly impressive, scoring against Manchester City, Brighton and Crystal Palace. As noted by Sky Sports' Matt Cheetham, the Brazilian has also impressed with his defensive work-rate, becoming a key figure for Ancelotti both with and without the ball.
Everton are taking more shots, attempting more pass and scoring more goals under Ancelotti. Lucas Digne's set pieces remain a major source of danger, while Gylfi Sigurdsson and Bernard have offered plenty of creativity too. Their midfield should be further boosted by the imminent return of former Barcelona man Andre Gomes.
Even without him, though, the Toffees have scored in every one of their Premier League games under Ancelotti so far. It is a record they will hope to keep up when they step out at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
Watch Arsenal vs Everton live on Sky Sports Premier League HD from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm