Arsenal will embark on their first ever Europa League campaign this year, as their competition gets up and running with the visit of Bungesliga side Köln on Thursday night.
The Gunners will be considered as one of the main teams in contention for this season’s Europa League, and should qualify comfortably from a group that also contains BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade.
A different venture for the Gunners
For the first time since Arsène Wenger took over at the club, the Gunners will be competing outside of the Champions League, after finishing fifth in last season’s Premier League.
However, the Europa League presents what is most likely Arsenal’s best chance in Europe since reaching the final of the Champions League in 2006.
The Gunners haven’t actually won a European title since 1994, when they were victorious in the European Cup Winners’ Cup, so there is every chance that the Gunners will take this competition very seriously.
It will be intriguing to see just how serious Wenger decides to take it though, with the challenge of playing Thursday nights and at weekend’s being the difficulty many teams have faced in the past.
Arsenal should come through the group stage fairly easily, and therefore there is a chance that fringe and youth players will feature more predominantly before the bigger names become involved in the knock-out rounds.
Arsenal’s league form hasn’t been spectacular so far this season, and finishing outside of the top four is a real possibility again. The prize of winning the Europa League is a place in next season’s Champions League, so there is a chance that this may be the Gunners best bet of getting back among Europe’s elite sides.
Köln have started the Bundesliga in the worst possible way with three straight defeats and sit rock bottom of the league having scored just once and conceding seven goals.
Therefore this is probably the ideal time for Arsenal to play the German side who will undoubtedly be low on confidence.
Köln qualified for this season’s competition by finishing fifth in the Bundesliga last season, but without leading goal scorer Anthony Modeste who moved to China, appear to be struggling.
They still have some able players to call upon though. Vice-captain Jonas Hector is entering his sixth season with the side, and he remains one of their most reliable performers.
Meanwhile young Spanish defender Jorge Mere, who came off the bench at the weekend, could be in contention for his first start after arriving from Sporting Gijon in the summer. He may come into a defence that will have to vastly improve if they are to stand any chance of beating Arsenal on Thursday.
Wenger has confirmed that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil will miss the game and be rested with Chelsea at the weekend in mind. Danny Welbeck, Laurent Koscielny, Alexandre Lacazette, Petr Cech and Granit Xhaka all missed training today too, and are expected to play no part on Thursday evening.
The Arsenal manager said, “a few players have had some response to playing two international games like Ozil and Ramsey, so they are rested completely.”
Francis Coquelin will also miss the tie and will be out for the next three weeks after injuring his hamstring against Bournemouth on Saturday.
His injury means there could be a chance that Jack Wilshere features against Koln. If he were to play then it’s probable he’d be alongside Mohamed Elneny in midfield.
Olivier Giroud is likely to play, and if he was to score would bring up 100 goals for the club. “Obviously for a striker it’s always important to score, the statistics are very important, and I keep it in a part of my mind,” the Frenchman said when asked about the record.
David Ospina is meanwhile set to start in goal, whilst some of Arsenal’s young talents could get game time. Rob Holding and Alex Iwobi will be in the frame, whilst the ever impressive Reiss Nelson should be in the squad.