Arsenal kick off their maiden UEFA Europa League campaign on Thursday, when they host FC Koln at Emirates in a Group H encounter
After Matchday 1 of the UEFA Champions League in the two previous days, Europa League commences with its group stage on Thursday. In Group H, Arsenal get their maiden campaign in Europe’s second-tier club competition up and running when they play hosts to FC Koln at Emirates.
The North London side were automatic qualifiers to the Europa League after they narrowly missed out on securing a place in Europe’s premier club competition for the first time in 20 years. Arsene Wenger’s men come into this match on the back of a 3-0 win over Bournemouth on Saturday.
Koln, too, made it to the Europa League group stage automatically, by finishing fifth in Bundesliga last season. They have started their 2017-18 league campaign in disastrous fashion though, rooted at the bottom of the table after three losses in as many games, and having scored just the solitary goal.
The sides have never met each other in UEFA competition previously. Ahead of their first meeting in Europe on Thursday, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at the encounter.
Team News & Tactics
Arsene Wenger does not have a lot of pressing injury concerns to deal with ahead of the visit of Koln on Thursday, with only two first-team players unavailable. While Francis Coquelin is out due to a hamstring injury he sustained on the weekend, Santi Cazorla is a long-term absentee.
The Arsenal boss could make a number of changes to his starting eleven on Thursday, with his side set to face Chelsea in a crunch Premier League tie just two days later. As many as seven key first-team players could be set to sit out of the matchday squad after they missed training on Wednesday morning.
Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Granit Xhaka, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette all sat out the open training session on Wednesday. With none of the players missing the session due to injury, the septet is expected to be rested on Thursday night.
However, Alexis Sanchez is likely to start the match, after training in the last three days following his appearance off the bench against Bournemouth. Meanwhile, the likes of David Ospina, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are all in contention to make their first start of the season.
Possible Starting XI (3-4-2-1): Ospina; Holding, Mertesacker, Mustafi; Walcott, Elneny, Wilshere, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Sanchez; Giroud
Like his counterpart in the Arsenal dugout, Peter Stoger does not have many fitness issues at hand among his contingency of players. Latvian striker Artjoms Rudnevs is the only player the Koln boss does not have at his disposal ahead of the trip to Emirates on Thursday, missing out due to illness.
Stoger, though, has the services of Marcel Risse and Milos Jojic, after both players returned to training ahead of the away day visit to North London. The key man for the visitors, meanwhile, would be Timo Horn.
The German goalkeeper, who is admittedly an Arsenal fan, has already amassed over 150 appearances for his boyhood club, and is rated as one of the most promising young goalkeepers in Germany.
With his goal expected to be peppered by the Gunners’ attack on the night, he will need to be at his best to ensure his side goes back home with an unlikely point – or more. Up front, Yuya Osako will be the key player for Stoger to test the Arsenal defence, alongside strike partner Jhon Cordoba.
Possible Starting XI (4-4-2): T. Horn; Klunter, Sorensen, Heintz, Hector; Risse, Jojic, Lehmann, Bittencourt; Cordoba, Osako
- Arsenal and FC Koln have never faced off against each other in UEFA competition, with their only two meetings coming over two legs in the 1970-71 Fairs Cup, when the German side won on away goals.
- Arsenal are facing a German opposition in Europe for the seventh consecutive season – the Gunners have faced Bayern Munich in four of those, Borussia Dortmund in three and Schalke once.
- Arsenal are making their debut in the UEFA Europa League group stage, having missed out on Champions League qualification for the first time under Arsene Wenger.
- On Thursday, FC Koln will become the 64th different that Arsene Wenger will face as the Arsenal manager.
- FC Koln are yet to win a match in England, having previously played five times in the country (D2 L3) – overall W2 D4 L6.
Player To Watch
One of the most polarised figures at Arsenal despite his exemplary record for the club, Giroud seems to be at a crossroads at Emirates currently. Alexandre Lacazette’s arrival in the summer had deemed him a backup choice at best, but Danny Welbeck’s upturn in form is now threatening to put the Frenchman into the periphery.
However, Giroud has shown time and again that he offers a completely different sets of skills that no other player in the Arsenal squad can boast of. Although he has only been chosen to be an impact player from the bench so far this season, Thursday’s match may offer him the chance to make his first start of the campaign.
A strong showing can go a long way in helping Giroud grab a positive result for the Gunners, it will also give Arsene Wenger some pleasant selection dilemma, and possibly a larger role to the player over the course of the season.
Arsenal 1-0 FC Koln
Arsenal find themselves in an unfamiliar position come Thursday as they get set to play in the Europa League group stage for the very first time. With the competition, a fresh set of challenge is set to be faced by Arsene Wenger, who will have to manage the fixture crunch carefully as the season progresses.
The competition could, possibly, also provide the Gunners with an alternative route into next season’s Champions League, an opportunity that Manchester United took up with aplomb last term.
The match against Koln, though, is a tricky opening outing, with several of Wenger’s first-team players set to be rested, with one eye on the weekend’s clash against Chelsea. Nevertheless, in Alexis Sanchez and Olivier Giroud, the Arsenal boss has enough firepower to topple the struggling Germans.
The Hard Tackle, therefore, predicts a hard-fought 1-0 win for the North London outfit to kickstart their Europa League campaign on a positive note.