Leicester City

Arsenal lay down true marker of progress against Leicester

Krishan Davis
Arsenal are on the up
Arsenal are on the up / JUSTIN TALLIS/GettyImages

Accustomed to being the butt of the joke in the Premier League over the past few years, it was unsurprising that Arsenal hadn't been given too much credit for their resurgence after a poor start to the season.

Having begun the campaign with three straight defeats, the Gunners had gone on an eight-game unbeaten run before facing Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday.

The overriding sentiment seemed to be that these were matches that Arsenal - THE Arsenal - should be expected to get a result in; beating the likes of Norwich, Burnley and Aston Villa, and securing the bragging rights in the north London derby.

For Arsenal sides of years gone by that might have been par for the course, but in 2021 the Gunners deserve credit and attention for their exploits. But while a victory at Turf Moor is all good and well, it was fair to say there had yet to be a true acid test of exactly where Mikel Arteta's men were in their development - disregarding the Tottenham victory, where form can feasibly go out of the window.

Following the trip to face the Foxes, the Gunners' fixture list for the next five games is punctuated by tough matches against Liverpool and Manchester United, so it was crucial to consolidate these signs of progress and prove that this streak has not been another false dawn - just as a ten-game unbeaten run in Arteta's early days in charge proved to be.

It was a perfect opportunity for Arsenal to show the results of their metamorphosis from disjointed losers to a well-oiled, difficult-to-beat unit in the opening weeks of the season - and that is exactly what they did.

A dominant opening to proceedings saw the visitors race into a 2-0 lead inside 20 minutes - and both goalscorers have been key to the north Londoners' recent success. First, Gabriel rose unmarked to meet Bukayo Saka's corner with a flicked header, and shortly afterwards Emile Smith Rowe pounced on a loose ball to fire home.

Leicester inevitably came roaring back after the break, and while Arsenal sides of recent years would undoubtedly have cracked under the pressure, this iteration stood firm and saw out and impressive victory on the road to make it nine games without defeat.

It was a slick performance emblematic of a settled team. Arsenal started the season with a raft of new signings - including some young, unknown quantities - and injury problems, meaning it inevitably took Arteta a while to find an XI and a shape that worked.

Two months on from the 5-0 thumping by Man City, Aaron Ramsdale has deservedly emerged as the club's number one goalkeeper and was outstanding once again at the King Power; Takehiro Tomiyasu has proven to be a shrewd signing and shone once more; Gabriel has returned from injury to form an unbeaten partnership with Ben White, and not only did the Brazilian net but the pair were typically stoic at Leicester too.

It was a display that also showed that when injuries hit or form drops, Arteta now has good depth and options to rotate into his 4-4-1-1 formation. On Saturday, Kieran Tierney and Granit Xhaka were the injury absentees, while a dip in form meant Martin Odegaard was left on the bench once again.

Nuno Tavares came in for Tierney while Albert Sambi Lokonga and Alexandre Lacazette continued to deputise for Xhaka and Odegaard respectively, but Arsenal looked no weaker.

Emile Smith Rowe, Nuno Tavares
Smith Rowe shone, while Tavares deputised well / Michael Regan/GettyImages

That the Gunners can make changes in key areas and still perform as a fluid unit against a top team suggests this is a settled team with plenty of room for growth - a stark difference to the early days of the season where Arteta was chopping and changing his selection and formations, including playing Sead Kolasinac in a back three at Man City.

There are tougher tests to come, but this side is showing the potential to haul Arsenal back into the upper echelons of the Premier League.