In a stunning night of football in Germany, Arsenal beat Eintracht Frankfurt 0-3.
The Gunners got off to the perfect start in the Europa League by becoming the first English side to win in Frankfurt. What did we learn?
1. The kids are (more than) alright
Arsenal started this game with youngsters all over the pitch. 18-year-old Bukayo Saka started, as did 19-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe and 20-year-old Joe Willock. They were all placed in the same band, with Unai Emery encouraging them to rampage forward and make the most of their chance to show their true quality, and that’s exactly what they did.
Smith-Rowe was superb, surging forward with pace and promise. He showed the kind of confidence that so endeared him to Arsenal fans a year ago. Joe Willock was even better, although he’s already shown what he can do with the first XI this season. Willock actually opened the scoring, albeit thanks to two hefty deflections, first off a defender and then off the bar. It was a slice of luck but Willock’s penetrative movement more than earned it (he had one supreme dribble in the second half),
Bukayo Saka, however, outshone them all. Hell, he outshone every senior outfielder around him as well. It’s quite a thing for a teenager to start for Arsenal and be the best player on the pitch in just his third-ever appearance for the club but that’s just what Saka did. He was so incredibly confident in what he had to do and how to do it.
18-year-old Bukayo Saka created more chances than any other player on the pitch in Arsenal's 3-0 win vs. Eintracht Frankfurt.
2 assists. 1 goal. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/VubTPSfI2g
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 19, 2019
Saka set up the opening goal with a nice run and pass to Joe Willock. He then doubled the scoring when he received a pass from Nicolas Pépé, opened his body up and curled the ball into the back of the net with an almost insulting ease. It was a miracle of a goal and it provided Arsenal with some much-needed cover. Saka then closed things out with his fifth key pass of the night and second assist; he pressed the Frankfurt defenders high, stole the ball back and then smooth as silk he slid Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in for the third. This young man means serious business, and you’ll be seeing more of him this season.
2. Excellent Emi Martinez
Eintracht Frankfurt absolutely hammered Arsenal basically just as much as the Gunners fired at them, but the overall sensation of the match feels different doesn’t it? You know why that is? Emiliano Martinez. Arsenal’s 27-year-old back-up goalkeeper who was playing just his 15th match for the club despite joining them in 2012. Of course that’s because for years he was third choice and out on loan a bunch, but now it looks like he’s been given his chance as this season’s cup ‘keeper.
And so far he’s taken that chance with two hands and firm wrists. Frankfurt created so many chances against Arsenal, albeit not as many as Watford did. They let fly with X shots, hitting the target X times yet Martinez was always equal to whatever they could throw at it. He made simple saves and super saves, but did everything with an incredible assurance to secure the club’s second clean sheet of the season.
If the Europa League is to be a proving ground for Arsenal’s young players then they will at least know that Emiliano Martinez will provide a solid base for them to play from.
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3. Misfiring Frankfurt
Of course as good as Martinez was, Frankfurt had so many chances and half-chances that they wasted. Yes they had 24 shots and seven on target, but just look at that discrepancy. Filip Kostic was a livewire leading up to the final shot or pass, but then when he had to make the final shot or pass he nearly always chose the wrong option.
In many ways it’s not a surprise to see them struggle to convert their dominance into goals given that in the summer they sold their two stud strikers Luka Jovic and Sebastian Haller. Without them, and even with the former goal machine Bas Dost, you never really felt that Frankfurt were going to ram the ball home even though they broke Arsenal’s measly defence down over and over again. This profligacy is going to cost them over the course of the season.
4. Arsenal are born to run
There’s no doubt that with the likes of Granit Xhaka, Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos in their midfield you’d expect that Arsenal would excel at playing against packed defences. With midfielders are capable of splitting defences open with the ball, how could that not be their forte? Well, they’re alright at it, but what Arsenal like to do? What Arsenal really like to do is run.
The XI picked by Unai Emery, and the subs he chose to come onto the bench as well, all thrive when running into spaces and thanks to some absurdly poor Frankfurt defending in transition, Arsenal were able to do just that. The young gunners ran and ran and ran into the acres of space and created some nice chances and only some profligate finishing kept the scoreline to a respectable 0-3.
Yes, if you park the bus you will stifle and frustrate Arsenal – but if the Gunners can get out in the open field then there’s not many sides on the planet that can live with them. All three goals came on the break, two via traditional counter-attacks and one from a sensational bit of high-pressing. Arsenal were born to run.
5. This is the same old Arsenal
Of course, the cold bucket of water that must be doused on everyone’s heads is the fact that Frankfurt made this very, very easy for Arsenal. And at the same time they rained shots down on the Arsenal goal. The German side had 24 shots, to go with Watford’s 31 at the weekend. That means Arsenal have allowed their last two opponents to have a combined 50 shots, fifty shots, at their goal.
That is staggering. And what makes it worse is that the sheer amount of chances they blew. Arsenal won 0-3 but Frankfurt’s defending was so cataclysmically suicidal that they should have scored at least double that. But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, for all his relentless goalscoring (he’s scored in all but one appearance this season) also misses big chances for fun. And the worrying thing is in tougher games, those chances may stop flowing and eventually Aubameyang and Arsenal’s inability to be clinical will cost them. Worse: their defence will almost surely be made to suffer at some point for allowing their opponent to simply rain shots down on their goal like confetti.