Arsenal and Eintracht Frankfurt are in a position where they would have loved to win their first Europa League group stage match of the season to boost their confidence. Both the teams came into the match with disappointing results: Frankfurt losing to Augsburg away and Arsenal bottling a two-goal lead in the second half to clinch a draw. Arsenal away to Frankfurt was touted to be the toughest match for Arsenal and Frankfurt was willing to take all chances to top the group.
Adi Hutter made few changes from Frankfurt’s weekend loss to Augsburg but lined up in their usual 3-4-1-2 formation. André Silva and Bas Dost were preferred as the strike partners. Dominik Kohr came in place of Sebastian Rode. Fit Filip Kostić was restored to the starting line-up replacing Timothy Chandler.
Unai Emery made a whole host of changes in the starting line up as well as tweaking his formation. Arsenal lined up in 4-3-3; Emiliano Martínez came in for Bernd Leno. Shkodran Mustafi paired David Luiz in the heart of the defence, Calum Chambers played as a right back. Joseph Willock and Lucas Torreira constituted the midfield along with Granit Xhaka. Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe started as wingers and Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang was the sole striker.
Daichi Kamada sat behind the two strikers in Frankfurt’s 3-4-1-2 line up. His role is quite interesting. He is the link between the midfield and the strikers.
Hutter had given Kamada a free role where he had the license to roam around in the opposition half linking midfield to the strikers. Kamada constantly made triangles with other players. In this picture, it is seen he makes a triangle with Andre Silva and Bas Dost during Frankfurt’s attack. Similarly, he is seen making triangles with the midfield duo of Sow and Kohr throughout the game. He also moved to the left to form a triangle with Kostić and Silva. He was always the extra man for Frankfurt who was always there to receive a pass or start an attack.
Frankfurt’s initial formation kept on changing to 3-1-4-2, 3-1-2-4 and 4-3-1-2 during various transitions. The defensive trio of Abraham, Hasebe, and Hinteregger maintained width allowing Sow or Kohr to fall back sometimes to make it a four men defence.
Arsenal sat compact most of the game in their own half and was happy in counter-attacking and using the pace of Aubameyang whenever they got the opportunity. Arsenal played with two natural wingers in a very long time and the two wingers were instructed to maintain width both during defence and attack.
Frankfurt’s inefficiency in attack and Arsenal’s difficulty in playing out from the back
Frankfurt took 24 shots, only seven on target. Despite taking 24 shots Frankfurt’s xG was a mere 1.76. It is really the story of their season. Frankfurt have a shot-to-goal ratio of 1:3 in their league which is highest among the top half teams. Frankfurt started the game very well, even looked dominating till Kohr was sent off.
Passing wasn’t great from either of the teams. Frankfurt completed 78% and Arsenal 75% of their passes. Arsenal played mostly on counter-attacks but there wasn’t any excuse for Frankfurt to have such poor stats. Frankfurt misplaced innumerable passes in the final third and also misplaced passes in their own half which Arsenal almost capitalized. Wingbacks Kostić and da Costa completed meagre 65% and 63% of their passes respectively.
Frankfurt relied on Kamada’s through balls and depended on Kostić and da Costa’s crosses. Neither could perform. Kamada completed 35 passes, more than any other attacking player on the pitch but had no creativity for the forwards to latch onto. Danny da Costa had a horrendous game and Kostić wasn’t far behind. The wingbacks attempted 22 crosses and completed only five. Mere 22% cross completion didn’t really trouble the Arsenal defenders sitting deep.
Arsenal could have faced the same consequence as against Watford in the starting minutes as they struggled in playing out from the back but Frankfurt couldn’t capitalize. Arsenal weren’t rigid and later started playing long balls from the back which eventually helped them. Aubameyang attacked the space left behind by the defenders maintaining width and latched onto most of the long balls.
Frankfurt’s defensive conundrum
Frankfurt lined up in 3-4-1-2 formation. The three-man defence maintained width allowing the wingbacks to push further in attack. Danny da Costa pushed back during Arsenal’s attack but Kostic was nowhere to be seen to help their defence, here lies Frankfurt’s problem.
The space left behind by Hinteregger and Kostić is clearly visible. When the opposition attacks, Hinteregger and Hasebe mark the opponent frontman and Abraham pushes right to help da Costa. Leaving behind an ample amount of space for any opposition midfielder to attack. This is generally the case for Frankfurt this season. Something similar happened in the first half when Saka crossed the ball for Torreira. Torreira attacked the large space that was left behind, unfortunately, he couldn’t finish.
Another major problem in Frankfurt’s defence is when they are attacking. When they attack, da Costa and Kostić move forward, sometimes even to the extent of making a 3-1-2-4. It’s really a struggle for the wingbacks to fall back immediately when they lose the ball. A good counter-attacking team would take full advantage of this formation.
Arsenal scored the first goal in a similar fashion. Kostic put a wrong cross in Arsenal’s box. It was recovered by Kolašinac. With da Costa up, Abraham, who had a horrendous game, pushed up breaking the three men defence to recover it quickly and Sow did not cover him well. Leading to a 2 vs. 2 situation and Arsenal scoring a goal.
Saka and Xhaka
Saka had a tremendous debut. His stat speaks for himself. He scored one and made two assists. He looked nervous in the first few minutes but once he broke those shackles he bamboozled the Frankfurt defence with his skills.
Saka was the creator of the first Arsenal goal, dribbling past Abraham and putting a simple pass for Willock to create a 2 vs. 2 situation.
Once Kohr was expelled from the game, he utilized the space well scoring the second goal. The third goal too was all about him. He snatched the ball from Abraham and passed it to Aubameyang and he put the ball in the net. Other than that, he also completed 66.7% of his crosses and 50% of his dribbles. Saka can be a natural winger Arsenal was looking for.
The limelight was stolen by Saka but Xhaka gave an enormous performance. Xhaka produced a performance that everyone expects from him on a regular basis. He was brilliant in covering his defence and dictating the play. He made nine recoveries and completed three crosses
This game was all about Frankfurt’s inefficiency in attack and their defensive conundrum and Arsenal exploiting their wide defence by sitting deep and utilizing Saka and Aubameyang’s pace.
This analysis shows Frankfurt has a lot to ponder upon and especially in their defensive area. Arsenal should start playing the game they played against Frankfurt and limit playing out from the back. Arsenal’s think tank have to manage Saka’s minutes well and see that they don’t lose another goal-scoring winger like Serge Gnabry.