The Gunners beat Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0 in the Europa League on Thursday night with a teenager the star of the show
There may be plenty of questions surrounding some of Arsenal’s senior players right now, but the quality of the club’s youngsters has been not up for debate.
The conveyor belt of talent being produced at the Gunners’ Hale End academy keeps on churning, and against Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday night some of Arsenal’s shining young lights helped lift the gloom following Sunday’s capitulation at Watford.
Just as he did last season, Unai Emery used the Europa League as an opportunity to give some youngsters some minutes and they did not disappoint as the Gunners began their European campaign with a much needed 3-0 victory.
Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe both started, as did 18-year-old Bukayo Saka, whose only previous start came in this competition last season when he lined up against Qarabag at the Emirates Stadium.
And the trio all impressed during a frenetic encounter at the Commerzbank Arena which easily could have featured far more than three goals scored by the visitors.
Arsenal’s victory should not be underestimated. Frankfurt had gone 16 games unbeaten at home in the Europa League prior to the Gunners’ visit, winning 13 and drawing three. Both Inter and Chelsea failed to win here last season and the 3-0 scoreline has been the heaviest Frankfurt have ever suffered at home in a UEFA competition.
So Arsenal deserve real credit for this victory, especially as it came with a makeshift side of containing both youngsters and some players who had not had much game time this season, including the much-maligned Shkodran Mustafi.
But it could have gone either way. Just like against Watford at the weekend, Emery’s side gave up an alarming amount of chances and had it not been for some profligate Frankfurt finishing and some fine saves by the excellent Emiliano Martinez, Frankfurt would have got something for their troubles.
The home side had 24 shots on goal, just seven less than the 31 Watford had on Sunday. That means Arsenal have now faced a hugely worrying 120 shots on goal in six games so far this season.
Granit Xhaka was once again left isolated at times in front of the back four, allowing the home side to cut through the visitors at will and create shooting opportunities.
But Arsenal also created plenty of chances themselves thanks to their vibrant young attackers, who combined exceptionally well at times with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the Gabon international once again led the line in the absence of the injured Alexandre Laaczette.
There has been an awful lot of excitement behind the scenes at the Emirates around Saka, who only turned 18 a fortnight ago. And the winger showed why with a scintilating display in Germany.
Lining up on the left of Aubameyang, he showed no fear amid the cauldron-like atmosphere, running with the round ball whenever he got an opportunity and looking to get at his full-back.
It was the same on the opposite flank with Smith Rowe, making his first appearance of the season, while Willock caused Frankfurt constant problems with his ability to carry the round ball from deep and getforward in support of Aubameyang.
The young midfielder wasted one glorious opportunity, firing over from close range from Aubameyang’s cross, with that chance coming soon after a brilliant cross from Saka had somehow been blazed over by Lucas Torreira.
Aubameyang had also gone close, again after some fine work from Saka, before a goal finally arrived on 38 minutes. And it was a goal born out of Hale End.
Saka was the architect, creating some space by nutmegging his man before playing in the onrushing Willock, who cut inside and fired past Kevin Trapp thanks to a big deflection.
Leading 1-0 at the break, Arsenal had to withstand some real pressure after the interval and they did just that, with Martinez excellent throughout.
The visitors then took the game away from Frankfurt – who had Dominik Kohr sent off with 10 minutes to go for two yellow cards – late on thanks to the electric Saka.
The teenager scored his first senior goal with five minutes remaining, curling a superb effort into the bottom corner from 25 yards and then he set up Aubameyang for a third two minutes later, winning back possession before playing in the striker with an excellent pass.
It was the perfect finish to an excellent night for Arsenal, who will feel they have started to lift the gloom caused by their second half meltdown at Vicarage Road.