It is 16 years since Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were all beaten to the Spanish title. Valencia were the victors then.

The season before saw Real Sociedad push Madrid all the way in the title race; Sevilla entered the final day of the 2006-07 campaign with a chance of an unlikely success, while Villarreal finished second the following year.

In more ways than one, it feels like a bygone era. As the money in football grew exponentially, so did the margin for error for the biggest clubs.

Atletico managed to buck the trend, re-establishing themselves as a top club through smart recruitment, plenty of money and finding a coach in Diego Simeone who was not only able to get the best out of players, but improve them.

Although they haven't quite kicked on in the manner many might have expected, stagnating perhaps, Atletico have finished in the top three every season since 2011-12.

But ahead of 2020-21's kick-off on Saturday, there is a feeling there might finally be the possibility for other clubs to join the party again.

With Madrid, champions though they are, by no means spectacular and seemingly reluctant to spend, Barcelona tearing themselves apart from the inside and Atletico in stasis, now seems to be as good a time as any for a challenge to come from elsewhere.

Sevilla and Villarreal will hope it's their time.

"Why can't we dream?"

In the past 14 years, if any club has mastered knockout football, it's Sevilla. Six UEFA Cup/Europa League trophies now fill the museum at their atmospheric Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan home – no other team have won as many titles in UEFA competitions in that time.

So far they have failed to elevate themselves to the next level, though, with only one genuine title challenge in the same period – it's difficult to even consider them Champions League regulars either.

But their most recent Europa League success felt a bit different. Their route to the final was tricky, beating Roma, Wolves and Manchester United, before winning 3-2 against a resurgent – and expensively assembled – Inter in the showpiece.

It was a statement of intent, a declaration of ambition – it was the Europa League, but they beat Champions League-level opponents to win it.

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly impacted upon the transfer market, and that has hampered the way Sevilla usually work. Sporting director Monchi makes no secret of the fact the club must sell every year in order to build a squad they otherwise would not be able to afford.

But the flipside to that is, for arguably the first time since Monchi first took up his role in 2000, Sevilla will begin the season with a settled squad. Sergio Reguilon and Ever Banega are the only major departures, while Oscar Rodriguez and Ivan Rakitic are fine acquisitions to replace the latter.

Coach Julen Lopetegui took a while to win over supporters, but by the end of the season he had Sevilla looking consistent and difficult to beat, setting a new club record of 21 matches unbeaten in all competitions.

That being said, Lucas Ocampos aside, the jury is out on their attack. Youssef En-Nesyri and Luuk de Jong failed to reach double figures for goals in LaLiga, and one gets the impression Sevilla will struggle to reach the next level without a deadlier finisher in the squad – their haul of 54 in 2019-20 was not especially remarkable.

But at the back Sevilla were frequently excellent, their 34 goals conceded being the third-fewest in the league and the lowest – by 13 – they have managed over the past five years.

The transformation in the team's style of play has been significant. They went from 35 fast breaks in 2018-19 to 19 last term, made almost 3,000 more passes and became increasingly direct, with headed attempts on goal up to 93 from 75.

But again, their main problem comes back to goals – they dropped 20 points from winning positions, and when you look at their 13 draws, seven were in matches where Sevilla netted first, and five of those finished 1-1. An extra goal in each of those five games would equate to 10 more points across the season.

Enough to win then the title? Not quite, but it highlights the fine margins - clubs like Sevilla don't have the room for error that Barca and Madrid do. They have to be more ruthless, and if they are, who's to say where they'll end up.

"Why can't we dream [about winning LaLiga]?" asked club president Jose Castro, quoted on the front cover of Marca recently. Challenging for the title is the next step and they look readier now than they have in 13 years.

Yellow Submarine ready to make a splash

The mess at nearby Valencia has proven particularly beneficial for Villarreal. Los Che are financially crippled, not in Europe this season and the whole club appears to be at odds with itself.

But few expected to see certain key players leave.

Captain Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin headed for the Ceramica, joining Villarreal for a combined figured of just €8m – the former was a free transfer.

Landing Spain international Parejo represents a remarkable coup for Villarreal. He had been a long-term servant at Valencia, spending nine years there and developing into one of LaLiga's most complete midfielders.

His arrival at Villarreal could be a game-changer, while Coquelin has also proven himself dependable in LaLiga. Add to that pair the precocious talents of Takefusa Kubo, a loan arrival from Madrid, and there's plenty of cause for optimism.

The Yellow Submarine finished fifth last term, 10 points adrift of Sevilla in fourth, but until the latter stages they had pushed Lopetegui's men - and Atletico - hard.

Villarreal's end-of-season struggles led to the sacking of Javi Calleja as coach, but in Unai Emery they have a replacement with pedigree, who also has a point to prove.

No one is expecting Villarreal to challenge for the title, but given the positives of 2019-20 and their impressive business off the field, there's certainly reason for optimism regarding a top-four push. Whether that also puts them in touch with the leaders depends on the form of Barca, Madrid and Atletico.

Defensively they will need to improve – 49 goals conceded meant only two teams in the top 10 let in more. At the other end of the pitch, they netted 63, making them the third-highest scorers in the division.

With Paco Alcacer, Gerard Moreno and Samuel Chukwueze all still there, it seems unlikely they will suddenly have problems in attack this term.

Their mentality was also questioned at times and it's easy to understand why when you consider they gained just four points from losing positions, while they also spurned 52 big chances. Although a slight decrease from the season before (54), those totals of big chances gone begging in each of the last two years were a significant increase on the previous three campaigns.

One of the main differences between Villarreal and Sevilla last season was the latter's superior resilience, as they gained three times as many points (12) from losing positions, but the right coach can inspire changes in such areas – Emery had the very same effect on Los Nervionenses in their run of three successive Europa League wins from 2014 to 2016.

He may have been criticised back then for not doing better in LaLiga, but in Europe Emery's Sevilla never knew when they were beaten and always seemed to have immense belief.

Villarreal will do well to mount a title challenge, that much is clear, but they look set to be a force to be reckoned with. The Yellow Submarine can summon everything necessary to make a splash in 2020-21.

Unai Emery says he dreams of winning silverware with Villarreal following his appointment as head coach on a three-year deal. 

The former Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss has replaced Javier Calleja, who left Villarreal at the end of the league season despite leading them to a Europa League return.  

Emery, who has been out of work since he was sacked by Arsenal in November, has lofty ambitions for his time at the Estadio de la Ceramica. 

"I don't think about the end, but I do dream," he told a media conference on Monday. "The dreams are free and I usually get a title with Villarreal. 

"You have to enjoy the process and the path. Here, you [Villarreal] have enjoyed that path even if a trophy did not come. People should identify with work and be proud of it. 

"Being in Spain after the experiences abroad makes me feel at home. Villarreal fills me with the challenge and ambition that I have seen when I have been in Spain.

"I have always admired this club. It is a stable project of 23 years since the president arrived."

Villarreal's fifth-place finish was a significant improvement on the 2018-19 campaign, when they finished a lowly 14th.

Emery does not want the club to be satisfied, though, and has targeted a plethora of fresh faces to turn his new side into Champions League contenders. 

"A great job has been done," he added. "I have to adapt to the club and the team, then we will see what can be improved.  

“A very high number of players will follow. It would be necessary to improve three, four, five or six positions. 

"The Europa League has grown a lot and comes with some prestige, but I also want to play in the Champions League." 

Unai Emery has been appointed the new head coach of Villarreal.

The former Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss has signed a three-year deal with the club, who finished fifth in LaLiga in 2019-20.

It is Emery's first job since he was sacked by the Gunners last November following a run of just one win in nine games in all competitions.

He succeeded Arsene Wenger at Emirates Stadium in 2018 but failed to secure a return to the Champions League, losing the Europa League final 4-1 to Chelsea last year.

Emery has replaced Javier Calleja, who left Villarreal at the end of the league season despite leading them to a Europa League return.

"I don't t hold any grudge but I'm hurt," he told El Transistor. "Now it's the turn of Unai Emery and I hope he takes them as high as possible. 

"I'm hurt by the way this has happened. I would have done it differently."

Villarreal lost three of their final five games of the season but had previously been on a six-game unbeaten run, which propelled them back into contention for Europe.

Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann has no interest in leaving the LaLiga giants.

Speculation over the France international's future has increased amid his, and Barca's, struggles.

But the 29-year-old seemingly wants more than one season at Barcelona.

 

TOP STORY – GRIEZMANN NOT INTERESTED IN BARCELONA EXIT

Griezmann has no interest in leaving Barcelona, according to Le Parisien.

Since arriving from Atletico Madrid for €120million, Griezmann has managed just 14 goals in 43 games this season.

Griezmann was introduced as a 90th-minute substitute in Barca's 2-2 draw with his former club on Tuesday.

ROUND-UP

- Staying at Camp Nou and Quique Setien's future as Barcelona head coach remains a talking point after one win in four games. AS reports Setien is not in immediate danger but is far from safe, while Sport says his future is uncertain, although the club are hoping to keep him at the helm until the end of the season.

- Manchester City look set for a rebuild in the close season. The Guardian claims Bayern Munich defender David Alaba, who is out of contract next year, is a target for the Premier League giants.

- After making a stellar start to the season with Lyon before suffering a serious knee injury, Memphis Depay has been linked with a move. Le 10 Sport reports Arsenal want the attacker, who has 14 goals in 18 games this season.

- Carlos Tevez's future remains uncertain. Ole says the former Manchester United and Manchester City forward, 36, could retire as he struggles to agree to a new contract with Boca Juniors.

- With Bruno Lage on his way out as Benfica coach, the Portuguese giants are searching for a new boss. According to A Bola, Benfica have looked at the likes of Mauricio Pochettino, Ernesto Valverde and Laurent Blanc, but are now considering former Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal coach Unai Emery.

- Tottenham defender Serge Aurier could be set for a move. Sky Sports reports Monaco are interested in the Ivory Coast right-back.

Unai Emery has opened up on the fractious relationship he endured with Mesut Ozil at Arsenal and says the playmaker has to "look at himself, at his attitude and commitment".

The Gunners appointed Emery as Arsene Wenger's successor in May 2018 but just 18 months later he was sacked with Arsenal making a disappointing start to the 2019-20 campaign.

Emery's relationship with Ozil was often a point of scrutiny and the Germany World Cup winner found himself in and out of the squad under the Spaniard.

Ozil was handed a new Arsenal contract in January 2018, four months prior to Emery's appointment, and the former Real Madrid star's commitment to the cause was questioned by the ex-boss.

"In the end he has to look at himself. At his attitude and his commitment," he said in quotes published by the Daily Mail.

"I tried my utmost to help Ozil. Throughout my career, talented players have been my favourites and they have played at their best or close to their best with me. 

"I was always positive with him in terms of wanting him to be involved, but then the attitude that he adopted, and the commitment levels, well, they weren't enough.

"One of the captains could possibly have been Ozil but the dressing room didn't want him to be captain. His level of commitment was not that of someone who deserved to be captain, and that's not what I decided, that's what the players decided."

Emery recounted one particular moment of tension in the aftermath of the 4-1 Europa League final defeat to Chelsea, the pain of which he had hoped to use as a springboard to push on.

"I had meetings with all the players that day. Individual half-hour chats with each one. Only Ozil didn't want to come," he added.

"He didn't come. And that's what we're saying when we talk about commitment. When the commitment is 100 per cent then everyone comes."

Emery also rued the loss of "leader" Aaron Ramsey, who opted against signing a new deal with Arsenal to join Juventus on a free transfer.

"When I arrived at the club I saw Ramsey was going to be very important, he's a leader on the pitch and in the dressing room and he wanted to stay," Emery said. 

"Logically he then needed to negotiate a new contract and they didn't reach an agreement, I never get involved in the economic side of things, that's not my area. But it then has repercussions on the pitch.

"I think, for the team it would have been better if he had carried on, and for me as coach too, because he was the next captain."

That reluctance to get involved in the economic side saw Emery miss out on top forward target Wilfried Zaha in the close season.

Instead of signing an established Premier League performer in the Crystal Palace star, Arsenal stumped up a reported £72million to sign Nicolas Pepe from Lille.

Emery explained: "Pepe is a good player but he needs time. When I was there he didn't give me the performances. 

"I was in favour of someone coming who knew the English league, more than anything so that he wouldn't need a period of adaptation. I had a meeting with Zaha, the Palace player.

"He was the player I wanted because I could see that he won so many games on his own.

"I saw 20 Zaha games, some incredible performances and I told them that this is the player that I want for this team.

"I spoke to Zaha. I had been with him personally. And he wanted to come. But the club decided that Pepe was younger, he was one for the future. I said: yes, but we need to win now and this lad [Zaha] wins games. He did it to us!"

Unai Emery reckons Diego Simeone has got the Atletico Madrid job for life.

Unless Simeone decides to call a halt to his Wanda Metropolitano career, Emery cannot see the club parting ways with the charismatic Argentine boss.

That factor reduces Emery's chances of getting back into coaching at the highest level in Spain, as he searches for the next calling point in a well-travelled career following spells at Paris Saint-Germain and Arsenal.

Simeone has spent over eight years in charge at Atletico, leading them to the 2013-14 LaLiga title and two Champions League finals.

Atleti have established themselves as the most consistent challengers to Real Madrid and Barcelona for the biggest prizes in Spain, which is why when Emery looks at potential landing spots in LaLiga, he finds it hard to see an opportunity coming up with the Rojiblancos.

"You go where they want you," Emery said to AS. "Now I live in Valencia to be with my son, but I'm registered in Madrid. I don't know where my next project will be, I am open to everything.

"What is clear is that Atletico have Simeone, who should be with the team until he wants to be, or his whole life, because there is no one who fits like him."

Emery first forged his reputation with successful spells in charge of Valencia and Sevilla, but the 48-year-old would not discount taking charge of either side's main city rivals, Levante and Real Betis.

"I'm a professional," Emery said. "My heart has always been with Real Sociedad, where I was for 10 years, but if Athletic [Bilbao] ever called me... I've been to Valencia, but if Levante called me... I have been to Sevilla, but if Betis called me...

"Wherever they want me and I feel recognised, I will be there, and that will be what matters."

Kylian Mbappe is capable of marking an era at Real Madrid and could be somewhat unfulfilled at Paris Saint-Germain, according to Unai Emery.

Mbappe, 21, has been heavily linked with a move to Madrid with his contract at PSG expiring in 2022.

Emery coached the France international for a season at PSG in 2017-18, when they won Ligue 1, the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue together.

The Spaniard believes Mbappe has the talent to create a spectacular period at Madrid, if he decided to make the move.

"Of course he has the ability to mark an era in Madrid," Emery told AS.

"Advise which league to play in? When I was in France, I love that he was there because I enjoyed it. When I went to England, I would have liked him to play in the Premier League.

"And if I return to Spain, I want him to be here."

Mbappe has already won three Ligue 1 titles with PSG – and another with Monaco – while he helped France to their World Cup success in 2018.

While Emery believes the attacker can be happy at PSG, he said there may be aspects that left Mbappe unfulfilled.

"Look, surely there will be things from PSG that fill you up and maybe some will not, and there may be Real Madrid," he said.

"We are lucky to have and export the two best teams in the world, which are Real Madrid and Barcelona, and I would like them to continue having the best players in the world."

Unai Emery hit out at referee Deniz Aytekin, Barcelona forward Luis Suarez and an un-named Paris Saint-Germain player as he reflected on the 6-1 Champions League collapse suffered at Camp Nou in 2017.

PSG, then coached by Emery, romped to a 4-0 win in the first leg of their last-16 tie, but on March 8, a day Emery remembers as the worst of his career, Barca recorded an unbelievable second-leg comeback.

Leading 3-1 on the night but still trailing 5-3 on aggregate after 88 minutes, Barca were on the brink of elimination.

However, they managed to score three times in a dramatic finale to seal the largest comeback in Champions League history, with future PSG star Neymar scoring twice for Luis Enrique's hosts.

Reflecting on the devastating loss more than three years later, Emery hit out at the performance of Turkish official Aytekin.

He also discussed his belief Suarez kept going down easily in the box and suggested there was a PSG player who was "hiding" as he explained the other circumstances that worked against his team.

"There are lots of details in that game that can be scrutinised," Emery said, per EFE, in a discussion with his former Sevilla assistant Diego Martinez, who now coaches Granada.

"But if I start from the end, I'd change the referee and that's it. I watched a repeat of the game the other day because I found it while I was zapping through channels. I watched it from the 50th minute to the 82nd minute.

"We were 3-0 down, we scored to make it 3-1 and we had a one-on-one that Edinson Cavani hit at the goalkeeper to make it 3-2; a clear penalty on Angel Di Maria that wasn't given; and in the 82nd minute, Di Maria fouled Neymar for the goal. That's when I stopped watching.

"In that section of the game, I saw that one of our important players, who had had injury problems during the season, was hiding in the result. Maybe I would substitute him now. 

"They are details, circumstances that escape you in a game.

"Then there are other key circumstances: the Barcelona players, especially Suarez, going down in the box continuously, pressuring the referee until he fell into their trap."

Barca were knocked out in the by eventual finalists Juventus in the last eight.

Unai Emery believes Neymar has the capacity to usurp Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the best player in the world.

Former Paris Saint-Germain head coach Emery worked with Neymar for his first season in France after the Brazil international's €222million move from Barcelona in 2017.

The Spaniard, who left PSG in 2018 and went on to manage Arsenal, loved his experience with Neymar and continues to believe in the 28-year-old's world-class ability.

"I had a magnificent year with him," Emery said, per EFE, in an interview with Granada coach Diego Martinez, who was his assistant at Sevilla.

"I learned so much watching his responses in each training session and in games.

"Neymar has the talent inside him but also the ability and qualities to execute it.

"I think he's got an opportunity to take the baton from Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo and be the best player in the world, and he has the time to do it."

Neymar has won six trophies in his three seasons at PSG, including a Ligue 1 title in each year.

Champions League success has so far eluded him in France, though PSG had secured a quarter-final place in this season's competition before the coronavirus pandemic brought a halt to major football.

Unai Emery felt Arsenal were "on a downward slope for two years" prior to his arrival and slammed the attitude of star men during his time with the Gunners.

Emery was sacked last November after just 18 months in charge at the Emirates Stadium following the London club's worst winless run since 1992.

The former Paris Saint-Germain boss insisted he stopped the rot after replacing Arsene Wenger, but believed the attitude of some key men left a lot to be desired.

Emery felt he would have made Arsenal a force if he was given more time in the role. 

"Arsenal was a club on a downward slope for two years when I arrived," the Spaniard told France Football.

"We stopped that slide and even started to straighten the club out with a Europa League final and fifth place in the league, only one place behind Tottenham, even though we only took one point in the last five games.

"We had Champions League qualification in our hands and it went wrong at the end. But it was a good season and we had the idea to continue this progress.

"But we lost our four captains: [Laurent] Koscielny, [Petr] Cech, [Aaron] Ramsey and [Nacho] Monreal.

"We were missing personalities for this season to stay on track, and some stars did not have the right attitude and asked for more than they gave.

"Considering all that, it would have taken more time to transition successfully into the new Arsenal that I wanted."

Arsenal are unbeaten in seven matches under Emery's replacement Mikel Arteta, though four of those contests have been drawn.

Unai Emery believes he missed out on the chance to become the world's best coach during his time at Paris Saint-Germain because there was no VAR.

The Spaniard won seven domestic trophies in two seasons in the French capital but left in 2018 after failing to mount a serious Champions League challenge.

In their first season under Emery, PSG thrashed Barcelona 4-0 in the round-of-16 first leg only to suffer an astonishing 6-1 defeat in the return match at Camp Nou.

A year later, they reached the same stage of the competition only to lose 5-2 on aggregate to Real Madrid, who went on to lift the trophy for the third season in a row.

Emery thinks his fortunes as an elite-level coach might have been better had VAR been in existence for those ties.

"In Paris, I missed the chance to become the best coach in the world," he told France Football.

"I won the league, four domestic cups and two Trophees des Champions. But the ultimate goal was the Champions League.

"The first year, in the round-of-16 against Barcelona, were played a really high-level first leg. In the return leg, we were knocked out because VAR didn't yet exist. We were very clearly knocked out by refereeing decisions.

"The second year, against Real Madrid, we bowed to a team who recorded an historic hat-trick and, again, in the first leg, we could find fault with the officiating.

"To conclude: we lost the first time on refereeing decisions, and the second against the defending and future champions."

The 4-0 win over Barca came despite Thiago Silva being left out of the starting line-up.

It was initially reported the Brazil centre-back had an injury but reports soon suggested his omission was more of a tactical decision.

Emery has now explained he had grown frustrated with the player for not following his instructions to hold a higher defensive line.

"I wanted the team to defend higher. Thiago Silva is a great player, but I wanted him to be higher and I couldn't get him to accept that," Emery said.

"I wanted him to get out of his comfort zone, to dare to defend higher so that the general pressure of the team on the opposition would be more effective. I worked with him to make him accept this, but I didn't succeed.

"This characteristic of Thiago Silva's game reflected on the whole team, which, under pressure, had a natural tendency to drop deeper."

Despite a disappointing end to his two seasons in charge, Emery insists he always felt he had the backing of president Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Indeed, the former Arsenal boss says it was left to him to convince Neymar of PSG's plans ahead of his world-record €222million transfer from Barcelona

"I always felt supported by president Nasser," he said. "For example, when we were about to sign Neymar, it was up to me to explain in person to Ney that we were going to build the team around him.

"With such a phenomenal player, you can't tell him there is already a team there and that he will have to adapt. You have to create the team for him. Otherwise, he wouldn't come - that's for sure.

"The president and the directors discuss the contract, but it's the coach who has to convince him of the game plan."

Monaco have high expectations and a mid-table position just will not cut it for the principality club.

Pressure may have eased on Leonardo Jardim after his inconsistent team thrashed Lille on Saturday, but fresh reports claim Monaco are looking at options for a new head coach.

Could Unai Emery - a Ligue 1 winner with Paris Saint-Germain but a disappointment at Arsenal - be just the man for the job?

 

TOP STORY - EMERY SET FOR DUGOUT RETURN?

Monaco are reportedly hunting for a new boss as Jardim's future looks bleak with the Monegasque club, and Emery is said to be a target.

According to Le 10 Sport, Monaco officials are considering former Valencia boss Marcelino and ex-PSG and France head coach Laurent Blanc.

A third coach reported to be interesting Monaco is Emery, who was sacked by Arsenal last month after a dismal run of form with the Premier League side.

The Spaniard would bring experience of French football after his time at PSG, with Sevilla and Valencia also among his former teams.

Monaco sit seventh in Ligue 1 this term, with Jardim handed a welcome boost when his team produced a shock 5-1 win over Lille at the weekend.

ROUND-UP

- Barcelona are looking to loan out two of their brightest young talents to improve their prospects of first-team action, according to Marca. The Spanish newspaper says 21-year-old midfielder Carles Alena could go to Real Betis or Getafe, and that 19-year-old centre-back Jean-Clair Todibo is interesting Bayer Leverkusen along with other clubs from Germany and Italy.

- Arturo Vidal could be another player on the move from Barcelona, with Inter said to be targeting a deal for the 32-year-old Chilean. A four-time Serie A winner with Juventus, Vidal's role at Barcelona has become reduced this season and a Camp Nou departure looks a sensible solution. La Gazzetta dello Sport reports Inter are lining up a bid of €12million. Inter boss Antonio Conte knows Vidal well from their time together at Juventus, whom Inter are battling with for the Scudetto this term.

- Arsenal are keeping a close eye on Lyon's former Celtic striker Moussa Dembele, according to Le 10 Sport. If Arsenal lose Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette, the report says Dembele would be a prime target for the Gunners, whose hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League appear slim after a shabby first half of the Premier League season. Mikel Arteta has just taken the Emirates Stadium reins.

- Thomas Tuchel could soon be on the lookout for a new PSG assistant, with reports from Germany claiming his Hungarian number two Zsolt Low is a possible target for Stuttgart. Tim Walter lost his job with the Bundesliga second division team on Monday. The Stuttgarter Nachrichten reports the club, whose chief executive is former Aston Villa, Everton and Germany midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger, have former Leipzig assistant boss Low in mind but have yet to approach any candidate.

Carlo Ancelotti and Mikel Arteta surely departed Goodison Park on Saturday suspecting they had each arrived just in time.

Everton initially improved under Duncan Ferguson following Marco Silva's sacking, but new boss Ancelotti - watching in the stands - struggled to hide his frustration as they contributed to a dreadful Premier League encounter.

Arteta, a former Toffees favourite, was also in attendance and might even have been the more encouraged of the two coaches-in-waiting, yet his side Arsenal were only marginally better.

Freddie Ljungberg has failed to inspire Arsenal, and it was clear on Merseyside that both the Gunners and Everton were each in need of a lift.


MESUT MESS CONTRIBUTES TO CAPTAINCY CONCERN

Ljungberg's stint ends with one win in six matches in all competitions, having muddled through the same assortment of teams and tactics that saw off Unai Emery while further exacerbating the issues around Mesut Ozil, Arsenal's eternal enigma.

The injured Ozil's absence - having reacted angrily to his substitution last week - neatly encapsulated the lack of leadership on the pitch for Arsenal.

Emery named Ozil among a quintet of skippers in each of his two seasons, but the warring five families in 'The Godfather' were less disparate. Only Granit Xhaka - stripped of the role - and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the former coach's group started on Saturday.

Ozil and Xhaka were in 2018-19's selection of five, too. Laurent Koscielny, Petr Cech and Aaron Ramsey have all since left - in controversial circumstances, on a free transfer, and retiring to join rivals Chelsea's staff, respectively.

Former Arsenal captain Arteta appears reluctant to intervene decisively, though, saying on Friday: "I want to see what they are doing at the moment and, after that, slowly, we will make some decisions to help them."


CLEAN SHEETS COURTESY OF CREATIVITY VOID

Everton collected just a second clean sheet in 16 league games, while Arsenal - having conceded the first goal in more Premier League games than any other side this season - could also welcome a rare shut-out - their first in 15 matches in all competitions.

But this goalless game owed more to aimless attacking play than defensive interventions, with passes from both sides regularly going astray at key moments.

Arsenal named their youngest league XI since May 2011, with many of the rookies in forward positions, yet Arteta would have been concerned as the visitors waited until the 44th minute for their first attempt.

Jordan Pickford was called into action before Bernd Leno, though, saving well six minutes after the break, as Everton likewise toiled.

Goals under Ferguson have largely come as a result of defensive errors, which the Gunners avoided, despite the presence of stars like Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison.

Ancelotti is renowned for getting the best out of talented players, and for all Everton's back-line issues, a key focus must be to ensure future displays are more incisive going forward.


IMMEDIATE RESULTS REQUIRED REGARDLESS

These two sides are stuck in the mid-table mire, and it was not hard to see why in a pair of hopeless performances. But such is the need to get their seasons back on track that both teams would have welcomed a late winner regardless of what went before.

Neither truly deserved the three points, yet triumphing without playing well will be the early expectation for each new coach.

Arsenal's captaincy concerns need to be addressed, while Everton must have more edge up front and be less edgy at the back, but frustrations will not be abated for long if results see the two toiling in the bottom half.

Everton's pre-match optimism was sapped by full-time, and Arsenal's Friday talk of Champions League qualification and "eventually" the title looks pie in the sky.

Only once victories are belatedly strung together can serious discussion of fulfilling ambition be considered.

Arsenal head of football Raul Sanllehi says there are no regrets at Emirates Stadium that new head coach Mikel Arteta was not appointed ahead of Unai Emery in 2018.

Former captain Arteta was unveiled as the new Gunners boss on Friday, leaving Manchester City, where he had served on Pep Guardiola's backroom team for three-and-a-half seasons.

The 37-year-old returns to London to find Arsenal struggling in mid-table, having endured a tough start to the season under Emery, who was sacked at the end of last month.

Emery arrived from Paris Saint-Germain upon Arsene Wenger's departure after the 2017-18 season, at which point Arteta was also in the running for the role.

But despite the way Emery's tenure panned out, Sanllehi is still content Arsenal made the best decision they could at the time, while backing Arteta as the ideal candidate for the club's future.

Asked if there were regrets, Sanllehi told reporters: "No, I do not like to look to the past.

"I like to look to the future, and at that time, we made a decision with the information we had. It is not time to regret. We made a decision conscious of what we wanted at that time.

"We are now conscious and convinced of what we are doing now."

Reports suggested City were unhappy with the nature of Arteta's move to Arsenal, although Guardiola and the club wished the departing coach well.

Pictures emerged of Arteta meeting with Arsenal officials days before the switch was completed, but Sanllehi believes the Gunners were "very respectful".

"In terms of the pictures, we didn't think it was such a great deal," he said.

"We have been publicly explaining openly we are in a process of looking for a head coach, and we have been seeing many and in the houses of many. It just happened this time there was a picture for whatever reason.

"I do not know if it was a neighbour or someone following - I do not know and I do not care.

"In terms of Man City and given the tight relationship between Mikel and Pep, we have been very careful, extremely transparent and very respectful."

Discussing Arteta's aims, Sanllehi said Arsenal "need to be in the Champions League" after failing to qualify in the past three seasons. He added Arsenal would look to win the Premier League "eventually".

Unai Emery says Mesut Ozil did not have the necessary qualities to fit in with the pressing game he wanted to implement at Arsenal despite the playmaker's "brilliant talent".

Emery lasted 18 months in charge at Emirates Stadium and has been replaced by former Gunners captain Mikel Arteta, who signed a three and a half year deal on Friday.

Getting the best out of Ozil will be one of the key challenges for Arteta, who takes the top job for the first time after earning his reputation as a coaching talent as Pep Guardiola's assistant during two Premier League title-winning seasons at Manchester City.

Ozil was sidelined during Emery's time at the club and the Spaniard indicated he hoped to fit the former Germany international into his attacking plans but was unable to do so.

"I've had a lot of conversations with Mesut Ozil," Emery told BBC Sport. "He's a very important player for the team. 

"There are games in which you see Mesut's brilliance, linking with the attack. But also I had to find players around him so he felt comfortable.

"Also the team needed to feel solid. And when you, little by little, have to build a team that is aggressive, intense, as well as structured for good pressure, we also had to find a space for Mesut as he gives us an important part of the game, which is his brilliant talent.

"To do so I had to find the right connections between players; the right tactics. I was very motivated to try to find that. I wanted Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Mesut to work together, each one of them with their own characteristics.

"But there were times when I had to leave one of them out of the XI. Ozil is a very important player if you can find a way to make it work with other players. 

"He has talent that allows other players to be better, but when you want a bit more aggressive pressure he does not have the best qualities for that."

Arteta will not be in charge for Saturday's trip to Everton, with Freddie Ljungberg taking the team one last time ahead of the new head coach's Boxing Day bow at Bournemouth.

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