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Arteta and Ancelotti show they are moving in the same direction

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Arteta: Two months into Arsenal job. Photo: Getty Images

Arteta: Two months into Arsenal job. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Arteta: Two months into Arsenal job. Photo: Getty Images

The last time Arsenal met Everton, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti were watching from the stands at Goodison Park, where they would have been forgiven for exchanging a worried glance or two. Arteta had been appointed the previous day, while Ancelotti had officially joined Everton in the hours before kick-off, and the size of their respective tasks soon became clear over the course of 90 painful minutes.

There were just two shots on target. Neither side looked remotely capable of scoring, let alone pushing up the table towards the European places. "Yeah, we shared some comments on the day," Arteta said.

Two months is a long time in football, though, and both teams have made progress. Everton have won three of their past five league matches, while Arsenal are unbeaten in 2020.

There is the same sense of optimism at Goodison as at the Emirates, even though the two managers arrived with vastly different levels of experience.

"It feels like it was eight months ago," said Arteta, providing a brief insight into the various strains and stresses of his first managerial job.

Ancelotti has cut a more relaxed figure, although that would be expected given his 25-year coaching career. The Italian has done all this before, and surely knows what it takes to move Everton from ninth towards the European places, whether this season or next.

Arteta, meanwhile, is learning plenty about his team and himself. Thursday's Europa League victory over Olympiacos was their third win in five matches, and last weekend's 4-0 drubbing of Newcastle United felt like a major step forward in terms of style and attacking fluency. A win today would move them a point clear of Everton in the remarkably open race for Europe.

"Every game that we play is going to have a big impact on the table and we are aware of that," Arteta said. "The home form is going to be vital if we want to achieve anything at the end of the season. Honestly, we feel as a staff that the players are willing and are behind us and want to follow us.

"You try to convince them about what we are trying to do and they are doing everything they can. The energy we have together is good. I am really happy with how everyone is reacting around the club - the players, the passion and the energy they are showing every day."

The arrival of Everton at the Emirates carries extra significance for Arteta, given his seven-year association with the club as a player. He still has friends there, and a former team-mate in the formidable shape of Duncan Ferguson. Having played alongside Ferguson, Arteta will have his own ideas of how best to share a touchline with Everton's combustible assistant manager. "He is a good character," he said, with a knowing smile.

Key to Arsenal's progress in recent weeks has been their defence, where David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi have been fundamental to three consecutive clean sheets. Their defensive record under Arteta has suggested a mental strengthening across the team, which is a consequence of consistent, deliberate messaging from the coaching staff.

"The attitude I want the players to play with is to confront the opponent," Arteta said. "It does not matter where we play, we have to go there and face them. We have to feel that we are ready to go, not just when we have the ball but when we don't have it as well, with the same attitude and aggression.

"They are doing it. I can only praise them because they are trying hard.

Sometimes we can be better or worse, but they are very willing."

After Everton, Arsenal meet West Ham United, Brighton and Hove Albion, Southampton and Norwich City in the Premier League. On paper, these are winnable matches, yet they are also the sort of games Arsenal have largely failed to win this season.

That was a different Arsenal, though, to the side that is slowly becoming more and more defined in their ball-playing approach.

They are certainly getting there, but do not go calling it Pep Guardiola-esque just yet. "We need time," Arteta said. "I don't want to accelerate the process and take them somewhere they cannot go, because it would not be productive.

"We have to maintain the things we do good and maybe then we have little margins of improvement that we have to aim to achieve."

Observer

Sunday Indo Sport