Arsenal will return to the Europa League stage after a 17-year absence, as the Gunners welcome Bundesliga outfit FC Köln to the Emirates Stadium this Thursday.
Formerly known as the UEFA Cup, Arsène Wenger’s men made it all the way to the final in the year 2000 after crashing out of the Champions League mid-season, eventually losing to Galatasaray on penalties in the host city of Copenhagen.
The Germans, by contrast, haven’t touched European football since the 1992/93 season, sealing their return with last season’s 5th place finish in the Bundesliga. This season, however, Köln campaign has brought forward a different mood with the club rooted to the bottom of the table on zero points.
Last season’s hero, Anthony Modeste, is one of the latest Chinese Super League recruits after joining TJ Quanjin for £31 million this summer, much to the demise of Köln, who have managed just one goal in three league games so far this season.
Although the North Londoners’ priorities will undoubtedly lie elsewhere this season, Wenger has admitted he’s open to reassessing his Arsenal’s progress as the season goes on, keeping hopes of going all-out for the Europa League alive.
The hosts will be looking to add to the momentum gathered by defeating Bournemouth 3-0 last Saturday but, with the Chelsea fixture at Stamford Bridge just around the corner, the Gunners boss is likely to present a fully-rotated XI and hand the likes of Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott their first starts of the season.
Also in line for his first appearance is Reiss Nelson, recently earmarked as the direct replacement for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain after claiming the Premier League 2 Player of the Month award when representing Arsenal’s reserves.
Joining him could be Jack Wilshere, close to recovering fully from a hairline fracture, and Alexis Sanchez, who’s currently seeking to build up his match sharpness after time away. Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla are the only notable absentees out through injury, meanwhile Köln are likely to have a clean bill of health prior to kick-off.
British viewers can catch Arsenal’s first Europa League game versus Köln this Thursday on BT Sport 2/2HD at 20:05 BST.
Arsenal’s Possible Line-Up
David Ospina – Calum Chambers, Per Mertesacker, Rob Holding – Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sead Kolasinac – Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud, Alex Iwobi