Eintracht Frankfurt – Arsenal: Arsenal Punish Frankfurt’s Expansive Tactics (0-3)

In a match filled to the absolute brim with high quality chances, it is a bit of a mystery how there was only one goal prior to the eightieth minute. In the leadup to a devastating end, Adi Hütter’s approach was as clever as it was naïve, given the subsequent gap in quality in each team’s attacks.

Tactical analysis and match report by Peter M.

After a torturous summer wherein they lost the bulk of their attacking players, Frankfurt appear to have recovered quite well. They have successfullyin reached the group stage of the Europa League after six qualifiers. Their opening Bundesliga games have seen them win two and lose two, leaving them firmly in mid-table for now. Following their away defeat to Augsburg on Saturday, Hütter made just three changes – Timothy Chandler made way for Filip Kostić at left wing-back,as part of their 3-4-1-2 setup, Sebastian Rode was replaced by Dominik Kohr in the center of midfield and Gonçalo Paciência was overtaken by Bas Dost up front.

Emery’s starting eleven, on the other hand, was a bit of a mixed bag. Bukayo Saka was handed his second start for the club, as he and Emile Smith-Rowe stepped into the front line alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. In this 4-2-3-1 system, Joe Willock was handed another start in the number ten role, whilst Lucas Torreira – on his way back to match fitness – was handed just his second start of the season. Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi and Emi Martínez made up the rest of the switches in the defense.

Frankfurt assert early dominance but Arsenal can carve through them

As expected, the hosts were raring to press their English opponents from the moment they set foot on the pitch. In their press, they aimed to mirror Arsenal’s shape, which chopped and changed between 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. 

From the start, the notable difference between their approach and many other man-to-man approaches, was how far away the Frankfurt players seemed to be from their opposite numbers. Whilst this might sound like a negative, it appeared to be a smart way tocombat the risk proposed by their aggressive shape. By  standing a few yards away, they were not only prepared to cover zonally, but they were also unable to be manipulated by sharp double movements, and could also gain momentum in their press against their opponents.

Frankfurt’s sit-off pressing approach.

Arsenal could not handle the pressure in the early stages. The press was being executed immaculately – forcing Arsenal back and long and into mistakes on several occasions. And, with such high and narrow wing-backs, Frankfurt could eat up the space in and around Arsenal’s midfield when turnovers did occur there. 

This saw Kostić, already ahead of the fullback, frequently able to drive with the ball inside in moments of transition. However, it was a risk; it left them vulnerable in the back-line where the wing-backs were not asked to tuck back in. And, whilst their intensity off the ball did ensure they almost always closed the angles into the forward options, the times that the ball slipped through always had the potential to be lethal.

Arsenal managed to exploit the space left behind the wing-backs in the fifth, minute when they won the aerial duel from a long ball to get it down towards Frankfurt’s box. After some unclean wide combinations to get Saka to the byline, he pulled it back to the far post, where Torreira was free of Kostić, but could not keep his half-volleyed effort down.One of the other issues Frankfurt encountered was the repercussions of mirroring a team’s shape, which was made worse, again, by their risky approach. 

In buildup, Hütter laid out a specific plan: veteran Makoto Hasebe would carry it wide and to the left of Aubameyang, with Djibril Sow offering some central cover. From here, Hasebe – with space in front thanks to Hinterreger – would fire aerial balls into the center where the box attack of Daichi Kamada, Dominik Kohr, Bas Dost and André Silva awaited. Now, although the rotations and movements to both drag away and come to the ball unsuspectingly were good at times, the risk outweighed the reward, as the pass forward was often very hard to control. 

Frankfurt’s buildup shape in possession.

After the half hour mark, Silva’s dropping movement to chest it back into Sow left him without further options, as Granit Xhaka followed the ball back, he was forced off the ball, leaving the center wide open for Smith-Rowe to tear through the channel inside of Abraham. Unfortunately for the visitors, his effort was too close to the goalkeeper. But there were more chances similar to that in the way Frankfurt’s midfield battle made them vulnerable in specific situations.

Frankfurt do not make their pressure count 

Frankfurt weretoothless in front of goal, too. Their attacking strategy, when they could get it going, worked to a tee against a very mediocre Arsenal medium block. A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. In a settled state, Sow found it extraordinarily easy to receive past Aubameyang and in plenty of space. And, against such a flat midfield three (or five), he had all the time in the world to play switches into Kostić. What was cleverly happening between the lines involved the attacking midfielder running into depth, and the striker dropping to create an overload When one team has more players in a certain area or zone than the other team. inside. 

On the first occasion, it was actually a case of a long ball from Trapp finding Silva relatively deep in the left halfspace. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. The same issues applied, though, as he found himself instantly free between the lines to exchange a very simple one-two combination with Kostić, who then proceeded to run in off the back of Chambers. With the defender unaware of the threat, Silva slid him through, as the Serbian shot disappointingly wide of goal. 

More closely related to the previously stated scenario was their chance five minutes after this when Sow clipped it into Kostić. Although the Serb’s first touch was a heavy one, it did not matter since Frankfurt’s three-versus-two could have counterpressed After losing possession, a team immediately moves towards the ball as a unit to regain possession, or at least slow down the pace of the counterattack. the ball well anyway. On this occasion, it actually managed to wrong-foot Chambers to push inside of him as he got off a sharper drilled effort across goal this time. 

By this point, something had to give, and it did. A goal that further stressed the risk of even losing the slightest individual duel meant the visitors could instantly open up Frankfurt’s back-line, as they did here. When Saka received off the back of Danny da Costa and ducked smartly inside of Abraham, he engaged Sow, leaving Willock’s wide run from deep wide open. Saka obliged by feeding it into him. Willockr then drove into the box, cut firmly onto his right and drilled a shot that flicked up and, with a heavy slice of fortune, clipped in off the bar, meaning Arsenal were leading after 38 minutes.

Frankfurt rediscover their attacking rhythm

In their attempts to rekindle their attacking momentum, which had fizzled out following Arsenal’s goal, Frankfurt aimed to be a bit more direct in their approach instead.

Twice, early on, did the home side simply go long from Trapp, with Dost and Hinterreger on separate occasions challenging first, seeing the remaining players of the box attack in the middle claim the second ball. 

First, three minutes in, Dost’s header fell for Kamada, who played in Silva’s channel run behind the drawn-out fullback – something the Silva in particular frequently did down either side. On the cutback, he found Dost at the near post, but his contact was not clean enough to threaten the goalkeeper.

Barely a minute later the same happened, with Hinterreger this time, and down the left instead. Kohr onto the second ball this time slid in Silva’s clever change of path from David Luiz’s blind-side to get through the middle, but Luiz recovered well to force a wide shot from a narrow angle. 

Once Frankfurt’s period of sustained pressure settled down, the game started to stretch out even more, and the gaps in the defensive structures were beginning to widen. A whole host of chances followed. 

There was Willock’s run out from his own box to Frankfurt’s, where he found Aubameyang’s channel run across so simply. Then there was Kostić’s effort from range in transition, as his narrow positioning helped pounce on a stray set of touches in the middle of the park. Silva was the next in line to get on the end of a great chance; again, Kostić was at the heart of it, with his narrow run leading to a cutback aimed at the far post comfortably finding its way to the feet of the Portuguese striker, who blazed it well over. 

Willock’s permanently higher position as an outright number ten was much more of a problem for Frankfurt than an opportunity in their press, now that they did not have the energy, nor the control to exploit it. This saw Willock overload Abraham alongside Saka when a long ball for the left winger drew out the center-back, leaving the lane into Willock open inside, but the Englishman’s drilled shot was denied. 

A nightmare end for Frankfurt

It was hard to believe that the scorewas still as it was, and that Arsenal were not comfortably ahead or that Frankfurt were not at least with a goal to their name. 

What decided the fate of the game, though, was partly Kohr’s second yellow in the seventy-ninth minute. As Arsenal continued to miss chances, after going up a man, they finally got the all-important second goal on the break from a free kick. Five versus four, Nicolas Pépé cut in and laid it off for Saka hoping for the return. Saka ignored his pleas, opened his body up and whipped an outstanding finish right into the bottom, far left corner. 

Finally, as Arsenal had their tails up still, the overwhelming number of attackers waiting to pounce on the isolated defense resulted in another dangerous breakaway. Saka, having just nabbed the ball of Abraham, nicked in the perfect reverse ball for Aubameyang to slot it in at Trapp’s near-post to make it three.


The case for Frankfurt would be so much more defendable if they were not architects of their own downfall. Hütter’s impressive and inventive attacking tactics looked to be paying off but how vulnerable it made them to counterattacks tarnishes their good work down Arsenal’s end.

It might not have seemed like it, but this was most certainly a deserved away victory for Emery’s men, though the clean sheet is by no means representative of how exposable their defense was yet again.

Peter (20), lives just outside of London. He’s been writing about tactics and such for over a year now, contributing to a couple of sites during that time. His main club is Arsenal but he’s also followed Real Betis quite heavily since Quique Setién took over last year. This form of writing has become a great passion of his and, although he’s unsure of what his end aim is, he’s enjoying being given new opportunities to continue doing so. [ View all posts ]


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