Unai Emery and his Arsenal side can count themselves a little fortunate that this season’s Frankfurt’s did not have anyone near as dangerous in front of goal as the ex-Leeds legend was in his pomp before they secured what was an eventually comfortable victory. For the second game running, Arsenal allowed their opponents an abundance of attempts at their goal – 24 this time – in another less than convincing defensive display.
Unlike at Watford, who had a record 31, Arsenal were not made to pay and left Germany with a morale-boosting victory and more-than-welcome clean sheet to kick off their European bid. For that they owe rising starlets Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for their goals. But especially their overworked goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez who kept Frankfurt at bay before two late goals from Saka and Aubameyang made the scoreline look a lot more comfortable than the 90 minutes really was. Arsenal were also indebted to the wastefulness of ten-man Frankfurt’s forwards.
The Germans lost their Buffalo Herd, as they were dubbed, of Luka Jovic, Sebastian Haller and Ante Rebic to Real Madrid, West Ham and AC Milan respectively. The trio helped fire Frankfurt to last season’s Europa League semi-finals where they lost on penalties to Chelsea. The sales of Jovic and Haller brought in almost £100m and Frankfurt tried to replace them on the cheap with Bas Dost and Andre Silva among the replacements. Last night was further evidence that you get what you pay for. Emery and Arsenal were the ultimate beneficiaries.
Regardless of how they got it this was a hugely important victory in the game Emery expected to be Arsenal’s toughest in the group. Mesut Ozil’s absence was the big pre-match talking point ahead of Arsenal’s Group F opener.
Either way, Ozil’s omission and Emery’s seven changes in total for a game he expected to be Arsenal’s toughest in the group opened the door for others to the first team. Young starlets, winger Bukayo Saka and attacking midfielder Emile Smith-Rowe, two of the leading talents coming through Arsenal’s ranks were among the biggest beneficiaries.
For Smith-Rowe, one of the plus points of Arsenal’s group stage campaign a year ago, his inclusion marked a return to Germany. He spent the end of last season on loan at RB Leipzig though injury prevented him building on his breakthrough at Arsenal in the first half of the campaign.
Saka wriggled into space on the left and set Willock away down the left channel. He still had plenty to do but slipped inside Hasebe and David Abraham, before unleashing a drive that took a deflection off the latter that sent the ball spinning over Kevin Trapp and into the net via the underside of the bar.
The overworked Martinez had to pull off a sharp save from Silva before Arsenal made it to half-time ahead. Though his animated exit while in conversation with one of Arsenal’s member of staff suggested he was not totally happy after having his goal peppered with 14 shots during the first half. Frankfurt continued in the second half where they left off in the first – by missing chances, Dost with a badly miscued header and Silva with two efforts fired wildly over.
With Arsenal’s lead so slender Frankfurt still had hope until 10 minutes left when midfielder Dominik Kohr was shown a second yellow card after tripping Saka and dismissed. And not long after Aubmeyang missed a sitter to put the result beyond doubt.