One Year Anniversary Meeting of Ancelotti & Arteta Only Highlights Stark Contrasts

Max Cooper
Dec 19, 2020, 10:15 PM GMT
It's been a tough year for Arteta as Arsenal coach
It's been a tough year for Arteta as Arsenal coach | Pool/Getty Images
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On 20 December 2019, Mikel Arteta was appointed as the new coach of Arsenal. On 21 December 2019, Carlo Ancelotti was appointed as the new coach of Everton. The duo observed their first match at their clubs against one another on 21 December.

Almost exactly a year on, the two coaches went head to head once again.

A lot has changed in that year, though. The trajectory of the two clubs could not be more contrasting, as Saturday's result propelled one team into second place in the Premier League table, while the other was left nervously glancing over their shoulder at the relegation zone.

Hands up - honestly - who would have predicted that it'd be Everton gatecrashing the top four, and Arsenal shamefully hovering over the trap door?

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But that's where we find ourselves, 14 games into the 2020/21 campaign. The Gunners slipped to their eighth defeat of the season, losing 2-1 to the Toffees at Goodison Park, cranking up the pressure on their rookie coach to almost unbearable levels.

Once again, it was abject, dreadful viewing for every Gooner, as their side fell behind to an own goal, found a way back into the match, and then handed all three points to the hosts with some shoddy marking from a corner. Schoolboy stuff.

As the seconds ticked down, Arsenal pushed to get an equaliser. But frankly, did anyone actually believe they were going to draw level? Those living on planet Earth didn't, anyway. Arteta and Ancelotti embraced at the final whistle, one understandably more pleased than the other.

The master and the rookie
The master and the rookie | Pool/Getty Images

This meeting of the two anniversary-celebrating managers only put into stark context what an absolute shambles Arsenal are as a club, from top to bottom. Both the Gunners and the Toffees appointed their new men with one ambition in mind - to book Champions League football ASAP.

For a club such as Arsenal, this was perceived as much more realistic than for Everton, who have only managed this feat once in Premier League history. And as the curtain fell on the 2019/20 campaign, those hopes became expectations for Gooners.

Arteta turned his new side into a well-tuned, well-drilled beast, able to shut out threats of all levels while instilling a counter-attacking, surgical style of play. The season ended with the Spaniard lifting his first trophy as a coach, after the Gunners picked up the FA Cup in impressive fashion.

Something to build on, then.

In Merseyside, Ancelotti's men finished the season in limp fashion, losing the final game of the season to relegated Bournemouth, and residing in 12th place in the table. They also suffered the humiliation of crashing out of the FA Cup to rivals Liverpool, who fielded an incredibly youth-filled side. The Italian couldn't seem to get his ideas across to his players, and they weren't responding to his ego-whispering ways.

A step too far for the great coach, perhaps.

And yet, four months later, these two worlds have been flipped on their heads. Everton backed their manager in the summer, who had a list of specific players he had worked with in the past to build his new-look side around.

Allan, James Rodriguez and Abdoulaye Doucoure all arrived, while the coach backed Dominic Calvert-Lewin to become one of the best poachers in the Premier League. What a masterstroke that was.

It's time we acknowledge what a smart appointment the Everton board made. Ancelotti took those final months of the season to analyse his squad, understand where he needed to strengthen, who he could mould and who he couldn't trust. Those he couldn't trust would not make the cut. Simple.

The Italian has transformed Calvert-Lewin into a lean, mean goal machine, while James is playing football with that beautiful smile on his face once again. Richarlison smiles less, but he's also thriving in the new system put in place. The whole team works.

Ancelotti has surpassed expectations, using his contact book, his transfer knowhow and incomparable man-management skills to whip this team into shape, and chisel them into a competitive outfit. Even though the squad lacks depth, there is something special bubbling away under the blue half of Merseyside.

Horror show
Horror show | Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Now, unfortunately for the Gunners, we return to the mess at the Emirates. The feel-good factor was sucked out of the club by the hierarchy's behaviour over the summer months, forcing players to take wage cuts to save staff jobs, then slapping widespread redundancies across the board, as well as cult hero Gunnersaurus.

This PR catastrophe was compounded by the decision to sign WIllian on a three-year deal, splashing out a weekly wage that surpasses £200,000. Talk about misreading a room.

This killed the atmosphere around the club, and the poor transfer business would have done little to buck up supporters' spirits. That malaise has seeped onto the pitch this year, as the players seem incapable of raising their game to the required level - or simply don't want to.

The club reeks of chaos. In-house arguments between players (both on and off the pitch), the inability to perform the most basic of tasks, grumblings about the running of the club at board level from supporters, and a manager who looks like a rabbit trapped in the headlights.

Stunned
Stunned | Pool/Getty Images

Arsenal's bloated squad is filled with bang-average, under-performing and overrated footballers. How many top six teams would the likes of Rob Holding, David Luiz, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles or Willian walk into? None. Absolutely none of them. So how can we expect Arteta to transform these ugly ducklings into swans week after week?

The FA Cup success in August feels a distant, distant memory, when compared to the dire situation now unfolding at Arsenal. 14 points from 14 games, lying 15th in the Premier League table.

Arsenal - 15th in the Premier League. In December. It's simply unheard of. Fans are quickly growing weary of this new-found low, and we are all getting a bit fed up of seeing 'hilarious' exaggerated online reactions from fans adding to their own club's embarrassment.

Questions are now being asked of Arteta's credentials, and rightly so. But the house burning down around the Spaniard is far from his doing. Fuel has been leaking on that old, soggy living room carpet for years now, and many have come close to setting it alight with a stray cigarette butt or two.

But we are approaching full implosion now, make no mistake. Some supporters are pushing the panic button, ready to wave goodbye to this brave new era under Pep Guardiola's protege. They must be wondering whether this risk was truly worth the gamble.

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After all, there was an experienced, proven winner available at around the same time that they decided to go all-in on the Mikel Arteta-experience. A well-respected league title-winner as a player and a boss. An Italian coach, Carlo something...?

I wonder what he's doing now.

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