öThursday nights were the nights of scorn. We laughed at those teams that spent their early season flying charters to points unknown and the outer reaches of Whatitsnameistan. But here we are on a Thursday night in unchartered territory as Arsenal kick off their first ever Europa League Campaign.
The only thing familiar about tonight is that Arsenal will face off against a German squad. Previously, the opponents from “das mutterland” were the giants of the league, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Tonight we face off against sputtering FC Köln.
What do we know about them? Well they sold us Lukas Podolski a few years back. They are off to a horrid start in the Bundesliga and their manager has been likened to a cap wearing Arsene Wenger. That’s about it – okay that’s about it from my end.
Beyond the opposition, the biggest unknown is Arsene’s approach to this tournament. All indications are that he will use the group stages much like he uses the league cup, to blood promising youngsters and give playing time to players short of fitness and overall playing time.
We know that at least 7 senior players have been given the night off ahead of Sunday’s Premier League matchup against Chelsea. Others are likely to fill out the bench. Still, the talent Arsenal can muster should still be suitable enough to field a moderately strong team.
The anticipation, if there is any with this match and tournament is that it will likely feature the return of Jack Wilshere to an Arsenal lineup. Whether he starts remains to be seen as Wenger seemed to intimate that he was short of fitness in yesterday’s press conference:
“He is also not completely at his best but he is getting there every week. I think he enjoys being back and enjoys competing for his place. What I see in training is positive.”
Add to Jack’s inclusion, Arsenal look to give starts to Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott, and Alexis Sanchez. That attacking prowess alone should be enough to see Arsenal through. But will they show up for this match.
It’s no secret the big clubs don’t rate this competition. Some will point to United’s winning it last season but the truth is that Mourinho didn’t prioritize the competition till late in their run, especially when it looked like making the top 4 in England was out of reach. In fact had they beaten Arsenal in the league late in the season, you wonder if they’d have focused more on the league than the tournament.
Arsenal are in it. And while we are in it, we should try to do everything we can to win it. We can worry about Champion’s League qualification in the late winter, early spring of the season rather than right now.
One of the interesting facts about this tie is the fact that both clubs reached a mutual agreement after the draw to share video data with each other. Köln assistant coach had this to say about the pre-match agreement:
“The arrangement is easier for both sides – you can’t stop opponents getting footage through other clubs or platforms these days, so this just simplifies the match preparation.”
Question is whether or not we’ll actually watch the video supplied – but that’s another story for another day.
TRENDS TO WATCH
Does a European campaign, where teams tend to be more open and stylistically similar to Arsenal mean Arsene could move from the 3-4-2-1 back to the 4-2-3-1? That seems to be the biggest question for today. Outside of that, can Arsenal start quickly and get on the front foot against a weaker opponent and stay there for 90 minutes.
HOW THE MATCH PLAYS OUT
Good question. Fact is given the rotation and questions about the squad it will be interesting to see how we play this. With the quality that Arsenal can muster off the bench to fill the starting roles in this match, they will still likely dominate the possession and the match in general. The key question will be whether or not they can take advantage of their chances.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Arsenal. Jack Wilshere. Sanchez would be easy but its been over 13 months since Jack last played in a meaningful match for the Gunners. Many want him to succeed and retake his spot as the heir-apparent to Mr. Arsenal. Tonight could be the start of that
FC Köln. Jhon Cordoba. Signed to replace the departing Modeste he has yet to get off the mark. If Köln are to be successful they need the forward to get off the schnide
ARSENAL PROBABLE LINEUP
Ospina; Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Wilshere, Kolasinac; Sanchez, Theo; Giroud
INJURIES AND SUSPENSIONS
Arsenal: Koscielny (suspended – 1)
Referee: Javier Estrada (ESP)
Assistant referees: Miguel Martínez (ESP), Teodoro Sobrino (ESP)
Fourth official: Pau Cebrián Devís (ESP)
Additional assistant referees: Jesús Gil Manzano (ESP), Ricardo De Burgos (ESP)
UK: BT Sport 20.05 GMT
US: Fox Sports 1 3:05 PM EST
- Arsenal were beaten 5-1 at home by Köln’s domestic rivals Bayern in their last European home fixture, in last season’s UEFA Champions League round of 16.
- Köln have lost only one of their last five European away games (W3 D1 L1) – though all of those matches were played in the 1990s.
- Arsenal are making their UEFA Europa League group stage debut; their last appearance in this competition was the 2000 UEFA Cup final, which they lost on penalties to Galatasaray.
- Runners-up in the two-legged 1986 UEFA Cup final, Köln are back in Europe for the first time in 20 years; their only previous group campaigns were in the UEFA Intertoto Cup.
Arsenal 2 – 0 FC Köln