MARTIN KEOWN: Young Arsenal stars' work rate gives their team balance

MARTIN KEOWN TALKS TACTICS:  Young Arsenal stars’ work rate gives Mikel Arteta’s side balance… but Gunners should be wary of Leicester as Brendan Rodgers has revitalised James Maddison

  • Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have excelled offensively for Arsenal
  • Young duo aren’t afraid to track back to ensure Gunners’ tactical balance 
  • Arsenal face Leicester on Saturday looking to extend unbeaten run to six games 
  • Arsenal play same system Man Utd used in 4-2 defeat to Foxes two weeks ago

Arsenal produced their best performance of the season against Aston Villa with Mikel Arteta finally closing in on his best formation and XI.

The 4-2-3-1 from last week is the same set-up and side I’d like to see against Leicester today, the one change being to replace the impressive Nuno Tavares with Kieran Tierney if he’s fit to start.

That forward line — Bukayo Saka on the right, Emile Smith Rowe on the left, Alexandre Lacazette off the front and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top — is a successful mixture of raw, natural talent and proven mature quality.

Arsenal have finally found a balanced forward line with Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 

Manchester United, using the same 4-2-3-1 shape which Arsenal are using, were thumped 4-2 in Leicester’s last Premier League home game two weeks ago. 

Brendan Rodgers’ rampant side managed 11 shots on target that day — the third-most of any top-flight team in a match this season.

The difference, though, is Arsenal have wide players in Saka and Smith Rowe who are prepared to track back and help their team defensively.

Saka and Smith Rowe have played a key role in Arsenal’s recovery at both ends of the pitch

The way Smith Rowe was tucking into midfield against Villa reminded me of Ray Parlour and the defensive shifts he would put in. That game saw Lacazette make his first league start of the season.

His presence is immensely important for Arsenal’s youngsters. 

Saka and Smith Rowe are talented young players who are improving all the time and Lacazette, along with Aubameyang, are important individuals in that learning process. 

Alexandre Lacazette’s presence is immensely important for Arsenal’s youngsters

I can see it starting to come together for Arsenal, who are now unbeaten in eight games.

Ben White and Gabriel have been an ever-present partnership at the back in the league during that run, while Albert Sambi Lokonga in front of them in midfield is breaking up play nicely alongside Thomas Partey.

Leicester have put together their own unbeaten run of five games. After both teams’ inconsistent starts to the season, they have each won four, drawn two and lost three, making this a ninth versus 10th match.

James Maddison scored his first goal since February last week and has looked back to his best

Last week James Maddison scored his first goal since February, when he was rightly being compared to Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount and in the running to make the England squad for Euro 2020.

But he never made it to the tournament and he suffered the double blow of not starting in the FA Cup final for Leicester against Chelsea in May.

That will have hit the player’s confidence. In an effort to improve his player’s performances, Rodgers recently sat down with Maddison to show him clips of what he used to do in a Leicester shirt. In their last two victories, Maddison has been looking back at his best.

The 3-4-1-2 system which Rodgers now uses gets the best out of him. It allows Maddison to be much more creative, with two players in Youri Tielemens and Boubakary Soumare sitting behind him as cover. 

As a result he’s been creating chances for the evergreen Jamie Vardy, who simply loves playing against Arsenal after scoring 11 goals in 13 games against them, and his strike partner, Kelechi Iheanacho.

Last Friday, Arsenal ripped apart a Villa side who deployed the same 3-4-1-2 tactical system which Leicester currently use. Dean Smith had to change his system at half time such was the dominance of Arsenal. 

Rodgers may elect to spring a surprise by playing a front three to protect his team in the wide areas. But he will keep his wing backs, Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne, who have been outstanding.

This promises to be a fascinating tactical battle between two teams who are believing they can finish in the top four this season.

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