Coming into this game, Arsenal where on 10 points in the group. This meant that they only needed a draw or a win in this game, or a loss from Standard Liege in the other clash, to get through to the next rounds of UEFA Europa League. However, the Gunners had not won in any of their last six fixtures. As a result, it is no surprise that there was an enormous amount of pressure Unai Emery going into this game.
Despite an impressive win over Bayern Munich at the start of the month, Eintracht Frankfurt have lost their last three fixtures. The German team still have a very good chance of qualifying as their final fixture is home to Vitória S.C. Therefore, taking something from this game could take them into the next round.
This tactical analysis will break down the tactics used by Unai Emery and how Adi Hütter combated this with his tactics.
As he has done throughout the competition, Emery made changes to the team. This is because it is a good chance for some of the fringe players to get some minutes. It also meant a change in the system as Arsenal left the 3-4-1-2 that they played against Southampton for a 4-2-3-1. The most significant change tactically was to play David Luiz in midfield with Granit Xhaka. This was done so Joe Willock could play further up the pitch to be creative.
Frankfurt made wholesale changes from their defeat at the weekend. However, they kept the same formation in a 3-4-1-2. This is so the German side can transition from defence to attack. Playing three at the back can be dangerous, however, when defending it often turns into five. This could be effective against Arsenal as they are capable of opening up teams. playing with one in behind the strikers also gives them someone to play in the hole.
It doesn’t take long before the Gunners expose Frankfurt’s system. Playing with wing-backs can push their opponent’s wide players back but it is risky. This is because there is a big gap between the wing-back and the centre-backs. Therefore all it takes for Arsenal to create their first chance is to play a ball out wide to Bukayo Saka who is past Danny da Costa and consequently has space to run into.
Both Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pace is dangerous to let run at you. The visitors get away with it this time as a miss-communication between Aubameyang and Willock means the header flashes wide.
The German side has a good structure that means they have options on the ball. This helps them transition from defence to attack. The problem they were having in the first half was playing through Arsenal. Part of the home side’s threat is that the three behind Aubameyang like to operate in the pockets between defence and attack. This is a problem for Frankfurt as it is hard to pick up the trio.
This example shows how organised Frankfurt are. This is because all of the players are compact, giving them a passing option. However, all it takes is a miss-placed pass and Arsenal can pounce. Part of Emery’s tactics is to get players into the box. Therefore as soon as this pass is played forward to Willock both Gabriel Martinelli and Saka are driving forward. This is a concern as these players are dangerous when given space. This results in a corner for Arsenal as Gelson Fernandes can get back and block the cross.
A mismatch between the teams is the difference in pace. Frankfurt had not learned their lesson from earlier as the Gunners continued to get in behind the visitor’s defence. To stop Arsenal from getting in behind, the defence needs to be tighter to each other. This would limit the chance of a ball getting through. It would also require the wing-backs to be further back when defending. This would prevent the defenders from being one vs one against the winger.
These types of gaps led to a good chance for Saka. The opportunity occurred as a poor header from David Abraham fell to Aubameyang. This meant there was space for Saka to run into. If it was not for an alert Frederik Rønnow it could have been 1-0.
In the first half, Frankfurt struggled to break down Arsenal. This was because the home side where disciplined in their structure. The defence stayed compact and kept close to each other. With the help from the midfield, there was not much space for the away team to operate in. As a result, many attacks failed either because of an intercepted pass or poor communication.
The goal happened as the full-back had pushed up the pitch leaving Martinelli free on the wing. This left him one vs one and unsurprisingly he was able to find a ball across the box. This found its way to Aubameyang who had been able to get away from his marker and made it 1-0 just before half time.
From the first half, it was clear that the away side needed to change. Hütter decided to get back into the game and he needed more advanced players. Therefore, he brought on another midfielder in Dominik Kohr and attacking midfielder Mijat Gaćinović. This meant the team switched to a 3-4-2-1. The idea behind this is so the two players behind the striker would be able to operate in the pockets midfield.
Another change at half time was for the German side to be wider. This is so they could stretch their hosts and try to break that compact four that was talked about earlier. Adding width also means there is more space for the team to operate. As a result of Gaćinović coming on, it added a new threat as it was another player who is prepared to run at defenders.
When a player is prepared to run with the ball it often means the defence needs to get numbers around them to try and win the ball back. This plays into the change in tactics for Frankfurt.
Gaćinović can take some players out of the game, leaving space for runners either side of him. In this scenario, the ball is a little strong for Daichi Kamada but it shows the new threat they have.
Way back for the visitors
The away side have shown that they are moving through the fazes much better than they were in the first half. This meant they could operate in the area where they could hurt Arsenal. The equaliser happened as Frankfurt were able to find Kamada in a pocket of space. This immediately looks dangerous as he is facing the goal. With the defenders being slow to close him down, Kamada found the bottom corner with a good finish.
The momentum of the game had shifted in Frankfurt’s favour. This meant that Emery had to change it. He did so by putting on Mesut Özil as this was to help regain control of the midfield. Nevertheless, this substitution did not have the desired impact as four minutes later the away side took the lead.
Kamada’s second goal of the game was again a good finish from the edge of the box after the ball fell to him from a corner. However, the goal came about because of Arsenal’s defending in the build-up.
What Frankfurt were struggling with in the first half was to play through Arsenal. So in the second half, instead they played around them. Hütter realised that Granit Xhaka and Mattéo Guendouzi were too deep. This allowed Frankfurt’s midfield time to pass it around them. Similarly, Callum Chambers is not out far enough giving time for the shot. This forced Emiliano Martínez into a good save leading to the corner they later scored from.
No way back for Arsenal
After the second goal, Arsenal never looked like they were going to get back into the game. Hütter had worked out how to stop Arsenal from getting in behind like they were in the first half. Emery’s decision to bring on Özil and later Lucas Torreira did not work. This is because Frankfurt made sure that they were close to the arsenal players. This meant that they did not have as much time on the ball. The wing-backs also didn’t push high up, closing the gap between them and the centre-backs. Therefore with nobody in the pockets, Arsenal couldn’t play through.
Concluding this tactical analysis, it goes without saying but this was not a good night for Arsenal. It might have been an opportunity for Emery to save his job but another disappointing display meant he was sacked. The result does not affect Arsenal as unless they lose 5-0 in the next game they will still progress in the competition.
For Frankfurt, this is a fantastic result. Not only is it their second ever win in England, but it also gives them a very strong chance of progressing as a win at home against Vitória guarantees them a place. If Arsenal get anything they are also in the next round. Hopefully, the club can take confidence from this and take it into their next game to improve their league form.
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