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MARTIN KEOWN: Arsenal stars’ work rate gives them lateral balance, but they need to be careful with Leicester

MARTIN KEOWN TALKS TACTICS: The pace of work by Arsenal’s young stars gives Mikel Arteta lateral balance … but the gunners need to be careful with Leicester as Brendan Rodgers has reinvigorated James Maddison.

  • Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe have excelled offensively for Arsenal
  • The young duo are not afraid to back down to ensure the gunners’ tactical balance
  • Arsenal face Leicester on Saturday looking to extend their unbeaten streak to six games
  • Arsenal play the same system Man Utd used in a 4-2 loss to Foxes two weeks ago.


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

Last week’s 4-2-3-1 has the same setup and side that I would like to see against Leicester today, the only change is to replace the impressive Nuno Tavares with Kieran Tierney if he is fit to start.

That front line – Bukayo Saka on the right, Emile Smith Rowe on the left, Alexandre Lacazette in front and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang above – is a successful blend of raw, natural talent and proven mature quality.

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

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

Manchester United, using the same 4-2-3-1 form that Arsenal are using, was beaten 4-2 in Leicester’s last home game in the Premier League two weeks ago.

Brendan Rodgers’ unbridled team had 11 shots on target that day, the third most of any top flight team in a game this season.

The difference, however, is that Arsenal have open players in Saka and Smith Rowe who are prepared to back off and help their team on defense.

Saka and Smith Rowe have played a key role in Arsenal's recovery at both ends of the field.

Saka and Smith Rowe have played a key role in Arsenal's recovery at both ends of the field.

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

The way Smith Rowe was getting into midfield against Villa reminded me of Ray Parlor and the defensive changes he would make. That game saw Lacazette make his first league start of the season.

His presence is immensely important to the youngsters at Arsenal.

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

The presence of Alexandre Lacazette is immensely important for the youngsters of Arsenal

The presence of Alexandre Lacazette is immensely important for the youngsters of Arsenal

The presence of Alexandre Lacazette is immensely important for the youngsters of Arsenal

I can see him starting to rally for Arsenal, who are now unbeaten in eight games.

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

Leicester has put together its own five-game unbeaten streak. After both teams’ inconsistent starts to the season, each won four, drew two and lost three, making it a ninth-to-tenth game.

James Maddison scored his first goal since February last week and has looked back in his prime

James Maddison scored his first goal since February last week and has looked back in his prime

James Maddison scored his first goal since February last week and has looked back in his prime

Last week, James Maddison scored his first goal since February, when he was rightly compared to Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount and in the race to be part of the England team for Euro 2020.

But he never made it to the tournament and suffered the double blow of not starting in Leicester’s FA Cup final 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 jersey. In his last two victories, Maddison has been looking back at his prime.

The 3-4-1-2 system Rodgers uses now brings out the best in 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 has been creating opportunities for the evergreen Jamie Vardy, who simply loves to play against Arsenal after scoring 11 goals in 13 games against them, and his attacking partner, Kelechi Iheanacho.

Last Friday, Arsenal smashed a Villa team that deployed the same 3-4-1-2 tactical system Leicester currently uses. Dean Smith had to change his system at halftime such was Arsenal’s dominance.

Rodgers can choose to surprise by playing a front three to protect his team in wide areas. But he will keep his sides, Ricardo Pereira and Timothy Castagne, who have been outstanding.

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

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