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Smith Rowe is the future, but Saka is the present
Emile Smith Rowe is a talented player, there is little doubt about that. But the young Englishman struggled somewhat on his return to Germany, missing a good chance in the first half and too easily dispossessed throughout. He showed glimpses of his ability, but it showed that this was his first taste of senior football this year, especially taking into account the injuries he has suffered in 2019. It was no surprise he made way for Nicolas Pepe after an hour.
His contemporary, Bukayo Saka, fared far better. In the first half he had a golden opportunity to slide in Aubameyang, but dithered on the ball and the chance fizzled out. The 18-year-old was noticeably confident in his ability to beat players, but at times did look like the pace of the game was not what he was used to. However, in the second half Saka truly came to life. He was a constant threat to the Eintracht Frankfurt defence and capped off the half by scoring a wonderful goal from outside the box. He then followed that up by playing through Aubameyang for Arsenal’s third goal.
The Eagles fans believe
When English football fans disregard the Europa League, they often forget that their continental counterparts view the competition in a different light. Eintracht Frankfurt’s supporters created a fantastic soundtrack to the match – hardly surprising given that this season they have already sold out qualifying games against FC Flora, Vaduz and Strasbourg.
Every chance, corner, and tackle was roared on with the encouragement of over 50,000 fans eager to see their club upset the odds against a European heavyweight where they failed to do so in the semi-finals against Chelsea last season. Make no mistake, last year’s run to the semi-finals was unprecedented but the club’s fans clearly believe the club can replicate that achievement – despite losing Luka Jovic, Sebastian Haller and Ante Rebic during the summer.
Emery will hand out chances
Despite the trip to Germany being arguably the hardest of Arsenal’s six group games, Unai Emery heavily rotated his side, and was rewarded with a 3-0 win. Smith Rowe, Saka and Emiliano Martinez were all handed their first starts of the season, with Joe Willock and Calum Chambers also coming into the side having been dropped in recent matches.
Of those Smith Rowe, Saka and Willock are 20 or younger, and all three are touted as exciting prospects for the future. It is clear that, much like last season, they and other young players will get chances in the group stage at least.
Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Torreira also came into the side and though they are more known entities, they have made just one start between them this season. Both were linked with moves away this summer, and remain at the club but out of the first team. They will know that Europa League football is likely to be their best chance of impressing fans and manager alike, as Emery continues to rotate.
Frankfurt’s replacements will need time
Andre Silva, Bas Dost and Filip Kostic were the headline additions for The Eagles after the departures of Luka Jovic, Sebastian Haller and Ante Rebic. Kostic was a threat throughout and looked sharp, just missing the target twice in the second half.
Dost and Andre Silva had indifferent games, with the former having two headed chances would expect a man of his pedigree to bury. Andre Silva, who also had good opportunities to score, looked like a player short on confidence, but you would imagine the stability of a two-year loan will allow him to build some chemistry with his new teammates.
The performance on the whole, aside from the scoreline, was quite promising from Adi Hutter’s men given that remarkably, seven of his starters were signed permanently in the summer. Before Willock gave Arsenal the lead, the hosts had created a number of opportunities that were squandered off target or saved by Martinez.
Hutter will undoubtedly be concerned with the ease at which Arsenal created chances on the counter but defensive cohesion between the midfield and the defence should come with time.
Willock is ready and able
Aside from his quite fortunate goal, Joe Willock put on a very promising show from an advanced midfield role. He seems firmly established in the first team squad this season, having started the first three Premier League games.
In the first half, Arsenal missed the likes of Alex Lacazette and Nicolas Pepe as they struggled for fluency in the final third, but that is only natural given the age and experience of Smith Rowe and Saka, with the latter growing into the game when it opened up. Willock seemed to have more of an understanding with Aubameyang and when Arsenal did counter, he was inevitably involved.
Though the game was end-to-end for the most part, Willock was the one player who appeared to want to take control, more so than Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira. He made mistakes and missed chances, but his performance showed that he is ready to make an impact sooner rather than later.