Tag Archives: europa

Champions League Or Bust?

Can you lose your European pedigree?

 

Decades of dining at the top table of European competition, duking it out with the zenith of club football. It gives a club a credence, an allure. It allows a club to build a brand, something the business that football has become makes mandatory.

 

Constant presence at the top also makes them far more palatable to talent, talent that makes it far easier for clubs to extend their reservation at the most exclusive tournament.

 

Why would a player choose to join a club not taking part where the best of the best are represented? Players themselves are becoming brands, and while money talks – so clubs not currently plying their trade in Europe always have a slim chance of snaring a big name – the majority of the time when a star becomes available, the club that is battling in the Champions League is predominantly the more attractive option.

 

Arsenal have not been in the Champions League for two seasons now, and the fight to avoid a third season hangs on a knife-edge. The Europa League offers arguably the more enjoyable campaign, as the Gunners have a real chance of holding aloft the trophy come May. But the Champions League talks big, and players want to hear that famous anthem on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, rather than watching on TV.

 

Arsenal took part in the Champions League for twenty consecutive seasons. We were mainstays in the competition, and for a long time we belonged in the first pot of seeds. Our decline from contention in the Premier League also coincided with our fall from grace on the biggest stage, and the last eight or so seasons of taking part in the top competition in football was more about taking the cheque rather than having any serious notion of winning it.

 

Consecutive Last-16 exits cemented Arsenal’s label as an attractive option for ballers, but far from the cream of the crop. Embarrassing exits to Bayern Munich and Barcelona only served to underline us as 2nd class, watching on as the likes of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Chelsea, Atletico and Juve all fought it out for the grand prize.

 

Now, we are on the verge of re-joining the competition. Would most of us not want to remain in the Europa League? The excitement of reaching the business end of the tournament, knowing that each time our name pops out of the hat means we have a real chance of lifting the thing?

 

The Champions League though, is mandatory for progress. Like it or not, the beast that it has become means that the money generated from even a group stage exit means more than winning the entire Europa League trophy.

UCL18-21_PressKit_KeyVisual_Starball_Trophy

This means little to us in the stands and watching at home. The problem is however, that the longer we continue to stand outside, pressed up to the window but not involved means we drift further from the pack.

 

It means finding rough diamonds like Matteo Guendouzi becomes imperative, as the real big names want what we can’t provide.

 

A third season outside the Champions League won’t harm us too badly. Our profit margins will remain healthy and we can concentrate on a real push for a better position in the Premier League. should we prioritise that over the Europa League? Perhaps, but our squad is deep and talented enough to be able to fight on more than one front. We can focus on both. We should put a real push for the top four at the front of every season, it is far from beyond us.

 

Arsene Wenger once said that the top four is almost like a trophy, and the majority of us scoffed. With football as cutthroat as it is right now, his words have never been truer.

 

Our recent FA Cup wins meant the world to us, but a failure to reach the Champions League in the near future would mean that trophies would become even more scarce.

Arsenal Vs Atletico Madrid Europa Lge Semi Preview

Arsene Wenger placed this season’s emphasis on the Europa League well before he declared his intention to leave at the end of the season.

And now it is the only chance we have of silverware that is available, and it’s also the only chance we’ve got left to give Wenger a fitting au revoir.

We line up against Atletico Madrid in this Semi-Final first leg at The Emirates with a severe defensive problem. It isn’t through injury though, it’s simply that we can’t keep a clean sheet.

Arsenal Vs Atletico Madrid in the Europa League Semi-Finals

In a tie where away goals are worth their weight in gold, this means that Diego Simeone’s side will be licking their lips at the prospect of facing Shkodran Mustafi and co – and maybe just putting one foot into the final in the process.

Our defence at least has no injury woes to deal with, so Mustafi, Hector Bellerin, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal should be the four that lines up to face Diego Costa, Griezmann and the rest of Atleti. Petr Cech is still injured and David Ospina will most likely take the gloves should Cech fail to prove his fitness.

Arsene Wenger named the side most likely to play Atletico against West Ham, in order to gain fluency and battle-readiness. So that would mean starts for Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi, but there are a few variables that might shift the side.

Firstly, there is the injury to Mohamed Elneny. The Egyptian could well be out for a few weeks and this means that Granit Xhaka will have no defensive cover compared to when he partners Elneny, so the Swiss midfielder will have to be at his very best to combat the runs of Saul Niguez.

Then there is Mesut Ozil and Jack Wilshere. Both missed the hammering of the Hammers in the weekend – Ozil through illness and Jack via a knock – and with Mkhitaryan still not fit – it means that if Ozil is still not recovered, we could have a playmaker shortage. If Jack can’t prove his fitness, then our midfield could be short too.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles proved that he is an able stand-in when he came on to replace the injured Elneny, and the youngster could well get the nod to give our side that much-needed cover at the back. Wenger will know a single away goal could rule out any dreams of a final shot, so he could keep it tight and pack the midfield.

Atletico were going to be bereft of Diego Costa, but the former Chelsea man has miraculously recovered to take his place back in the side. Juan is definitely out though so at least if we spread the play to the flanks we could get some joy.

This game could be decided in the first leg. If we have one of our games where we concentrate on our attack and our press – you know the games where we pull a result out of the bag and get a win when we’re very much expected to lose – then we could take a very favourable scoreline into the tie at the Wanda Metropolitano Stadium.

If we concede though, we could crumble.

There is at least an air of excitement in the fanbase though, with a last four Euro tie being somewhat of a novelty of late. Let’s hope we can continue our adventure and pull one of our famous results out of the bag.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Welbeck, Ozil, Iwobi, Lacazette

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal

Arsenal Vs AC Milan – Europa League 2nd Leg Preview

Our 2-0 win last week over AC Milan has given Arsenal a great chance of progressing to the Quarter-Finals of the Europa League, as we welcome the Italians to The Emirates for the return leg.

The two goal advantage may well put us firmly in the driving seat, but Gennaro Gattuso brings his side to London knowing they must score goals, and they have nothing to lose.

This makes this tie dangerous, as we must decide whether we go for the quick kill and score a goal that will leave Milan needing three goals to progress – or do we choose to soak up the pressure and use our intuitive players like Mkhitaryan and Ozil to spark counter-attacks on a Milan defence that will push up.

It’s a decision that will decide the outcome of this two-legged affair, and we will need every bit of what we showed in the first leg to make sure of our passage to the last8.

Milan will no doubt name Suso, Cutrone, Bonaventura and Calhanoglu in their forward line, and it was the Turkish forward who could have made this second leg a far tighter affair had he taken advantage of two gilt-edged chances. The first especially, which was a minute before Mkhitaryan gave us the lead, would have given his side the lead, but Ospina denied him, and came close to conceding a penalty in the process.

It is these minute details that games are decided, and we must be switched on to deny the away side any hope on Thursday evening.

That will require a steady backline, something of a rarity, aside from our last two games. Laurent Koscielny should be fit, and will partner a far steadier Shkodran Mustafi in defence. It is Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal that are the doubts, and Calum Chambers and Sead Kolasinac will be in the side should they fall short of fitness.

Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey look set to continue in central midfield. Ramsey was rested for the weekend win over Watford, but both were superb in controlling Milan’s midfield and roving forward. Mohamed Elneny was effective versus Watford and could be an option should we look to shore things up.

Our attack is limited, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied and Alexandre Lacazette still injured, although the Frenchman should be fit after the international break that occurs after this game for two weeks. It means Danny Welbeck will lead the line again, and the striker was great in last week’s win. Eddie Nketiah will be the backup option from the bench.

We can go all out for this game, knowing there will be no crucial Premier League game this weekend. We will need the same outlook and positivity we employed in the first leg – if we can do that, then we should have our name in the hat for the next round.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Wilshere, Welbeck

Predicted Scoreline – 1-1 #UTA

AC Milan Vs Arsenal – Europa League Preview

A loss at home to Ostersunds.

Two consecutive losses to Manchester City, one in a cup final which underlined the disparity between our club and the current top group of Premier League teams.

Then a humbling loss to Brighton.

So a trip to the San Siro is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Our visit to AC Milan pretty much holds our season in its result. The Europa League, however small the chances are, is the only hope of glory in what has been a horrible campaign. The aim, with our confidence levels so low, has to be to gain any semblance of a result that we can pin hope to for the return leg.

An away goal would be handy, but Gennaro Gattuso has instilled a backbone in his side, and two consecutive 0-0 draws versus Lazio recently saw them through to the Coppa Italia final and underlined their defensive merits.

That will be down to the costly but necessary addition of Leonardo Bonucci, who was part of the granite-like triumvirate at Juventus that also had Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli. Bonucci is taking to Milan life quite well, and Milan, while not resurgent, are showing signs of life in Serie A.

We’ll most likely have to make do without the talents of Nacho Monreal, as the Spaniard is nursing a back complaint. He has a small chance of making the game, but Sead Kolasinac stands by. Hector Bellerin is missing out with a knee complaint too, so Calum Chambers will slot in.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is cup-tied after appearing for BVB earlier in the season, and with Alexandre Lacazette injured and making his way back to fitness, that leaves Danny Welbeck. The striker is a great addition to the squad with his endless running, his teamplay and tracking back. His finishing though? Not exactly clinical. Let’s hope we create plenty of chances.

Eddie Nketiah could play a bigger part than normal, being the sole back-up, and the youngster would learn an awful lot with an appearance in such a grand arena as the San Siro.

In midfield, Granit Xhaka has played almost every minute of our dire run and has shown very little change. Aaron Ramsey missed the loss to Brighton and is expected to be involved in some capacity, but will he partner Mohamed Elneny, Jack Wilshere or Xhaka? Previous games say the Swiss midfielder will win this race.

AC Milan rested Fabio Borini during the Coppa Italia semi-final, and his extensive knowledge of the English game could be enough for him to gain a place in the starting lineup, although Suso and Crutone may have something to say about that.

This Last16 tie is an opportunity to gain a little bit of confidence and also to dispel the talk of Arsenal being incapable of going past this stage. Our consecutive losses at this stage in the Champions League have put doubt to our European credentials, and it’s quite simply ludicrous.

Milan could well extend the run though. They have the squad and the atmosphere at the San Siro will be white hot. Can we actually play like the team we’re meant to be, instead of strangers on the pitch? The last month says no.

We need to bounce back now, and if we don’t we could find ourselves in that tired scenario where we have nothing to play for in the second leg.

Game over man, game over.

Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Chambers, Mustafi, Koscielny, Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Welbeck

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to Milan I fear, but that would be enough to give us a fighting chance back at The Emirates.

Brighton Vs Arsenal Premier League Match Preview

After the debacle at home versus Ostersunds, the Carabao Cup catastrophe and our home smashing against City, we now travel outside the M25 to take on Chris Hughton’s Brighton and Hove Albion.

Arsenal have had a horror show recently, and so optimism is thin on the ground right now. The prospect of an away trip, with our quite atrocious record on our travels, and a tie against AC Milan just days away, isn’t exactly filling us with good thoughts.

Arsene Wenger seems to have run out of ideas, but if he did fall on his sword, he has the opportunity to do so by winning Arsenal’s first European trophy since 1994. Before that though, he has to get his team winning again.

The above may be wishful thinking, but being a supporter means holding out for hope, and while we’re still in the hunt, we’ve got a chance. We’ve done our best to extinguish any opportunities that have come our way, but the first step is always the hardest – and that is our trip to the Amex.

The Gulls have only lost at home three times this season, and the winners were the likes of Chelsea, City and Liverpool. for us to become the fourth would require a complete u-turn of recent displays.

We can start in our defence. City ran our men ragged at the back. Bellerin couldn’t cope with Sane, Koscielny got nowhere near Aguero and Mustafi looks a shadow of the man who cost £35m. Koscielny could be rested for Thursday, with Chambers or Holding coming in. Nacho Monreal too, could be rested. They’ll have to cope with a different threat in the form of Pascal Gross and Glenn Murray.

Gross is creative as well as a threat in the box, and isn’t far away from the best playmakers in the league with his number of chances created. Glenn Murray already has ten goals this season, and the two seem the perfect blend. Throw into the mix Jose Izquierdo and Brighton have enough about them to get the points they need to pull away from the relegation trapdoor.

Our midfield could lend a hand, but Granit Xhaka is far from a conventional DM, and thus, is leaving gaping holes in the centre of the park for opponents to exploit – which they are. With the attack-minded Aaron Ramsey as his partner, it means our engine room is non-existent. Our boys at the back could really do with a hand, so using Mohamed Elneny as an extra pair of hands could do the trick.

Our attack will most likely be unchanged, save for Danny Welbeck being rested for Milan. That would mean Alex Iwobi coming in for the England man. Jack Wilshere is back training and fully fit, so could either earn an instant recall for this game, or be saved for the AC Milan test.

Could the game versus Milan mean more changes? This is where it gets even more tricky. Do we rest top players so they’re fit and firing for the Europa League – our last hope of salvaging a god-awful season?

That is what Wenger is paid for – to make those decisions. There will be repercussions regardless of what decision he makes – rest players and our Premier League woes are exacerbated – but play them and our European and last trophy hope teeters even more than it is right now.

Brighton will be a toughie, and with their Premier League stay for next season far from booked, they will be fighting for every ball. We need to fight harder, that’s the only way we’ll restore confidence.

Damn, we miss Santi.

Predicted Lineup – Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Chambers, Kolasinac, Elneny, Wilshere, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Aubameyang

Predicted Scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal.

Arsenal Vs Ostersunds Europa League Preview

This match might fall under the radar a bit.

We go into our second leg tie versus Ostersunds with a 3-0 advantage and the boost of playing at The Emirates, where our record is strong.

Then there is the small matter of this Sunday’s Carabao Cup Final versus Manchester City representing our best chance for silverware this season.

So we can be forgiven for placing less emphasis on this game.

Still, we’re in action and that means we get the chance to see our team in action, and our lineup will include vast changes from the first leg.

Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey have been confirmed by Arsene Wenger to be missing out, and both face a race to be fit for the Carabao Cup Final with illness and injury doubts respectively.

Danny Welbeck will again take the striking berth with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied and Alexandre Lacazette injured for the next few weeks. We could also see a bigger cameo for Eddie Nketiah, with little options up top.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan will feature as he is cup-tied for this Sunday’s final, but with Ramsey out, there will be four players vying for two spots.

Mohamed Elneny, Jo Willock, Ainslie Maitland-Niles and Jack Wilshere will be up for playing, but with the vital tie against City so close, Jack Wilshere could miss out, especially with Ramsey so doubtful too.

Maitland-Niles played well in his preferred spot in the centre, but he could find himself again in a wing-back spot as Hector Bellerin could be rested. The same goes for Koscielny and Mustafi, but we have the likes of Holding, Chambers and Mertesacker as options to come in.

Ostersunds gave us the perfect headstart in the first forty-five minutes of the first leg. With their results at home being favourable, most expected us to struggle, but the frozen 3g pitch was no match for our attack. The second half showed what the Swedish are capable of, and if the late penalty from Petterson had crept in rather than have been saved by Ospina, then an early goal in this game could have been very disruptive.

As it is though, even a typical slow start from our boys would have to be a real nightmare for us to give Ostersunds a sniff of a comeback. As it is, Wenger can’t really win. If he takes the professional route and sees out a simple game but doesn’t thrash Ostersunds, then we took them lightly. If we smash them with a strong side, then it was bound to happen and it is nothing extraordinary.

There are some strong sides left in this competition, and we will know more when the draw for the next round is made. We should be aiming to win it, but such is the gap in the Premier League between us and the top4, we need to put some work in to make sure this isn’t the worst season yet under Wenger.

So, let’s go for it and hope this game sees goals (for us of course) and no injuries.

Predicted lineup – Ospina, Maitland-Niles, Chambers, Mertesacker, Kolasinac, Elneny, Willock, Nelson, Wilshere, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck

Predicted scoreline – 2-1 to The Arsenal. #UTA

The Europa League – Arsenal In It To Win It?

For many, it was fair game for years. A laugh-inducing tool of procrastination, poking fun at our neighbours whilst looking down our noses from the highest of perches – the Champions League.

‘Thursday is Spursday’ was a typical favourite, and we all took part in dishing out digs, whilst we engaged in brandy and cigars with the power people in rooms behind closed doors. The Champions League is the desire of all teams who aspire to glory, and it was hilarious that tottenham continually missed out.


Eventually though, our grip loosened. The membership card we had for this exclusive soiree expired. We looked on at the entrance as the former butt of our jokes flashed a smug grin and was welcomed in.


The roles have been reversed, and the only door that is open for us is the Europa League – the very destination that generated hilarious memes and jokes aimed squarely at spurs.


Should we take this tournament a little more seriously however?










The Europa League’s stock has risen in recent years, through many different factors. Firstly, the number of Champions League-worthy teams has risen as money has poured into European football. A plethora of rivals in every domestic competition – none more so than the Premier League – means it is harder than ever to force our way into Europe’s premiere competition.


It has also helped that UEFA has decided to grant the winner of the Europa League a spot in the Champions League.


It has resulted in this 2nd class tournament elevating itself in its standing. Plus, with recent winners being Chelsea and Manchester United, if it is good enough for them, why can’t it be good enough for us to at least take seriously?


Whilst we see our team amongst the hierarchy in terms of European clubs, in terms of honours, we flag behind our esteemed brethren.


If we gauge in terms of European honours, then our Fairs Cup win in 1970 and our Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1994 are our sole baubles, on a tree that is sorely lacking in decorations.


Of course, it could have been so different if Paris had gone a little different, or even Copenhagen in 2000. Alas, it wasn’t to be, but what is clear is that our club needs to add to our accolades, especially in European competition.


The Champions League has been the table we have dined at for decades, and yet can we say it has been an enjoyable experience in the last ten years? Entering a place where you know you have a strict time limit before you are unceremoniously dumped out the door?


No, it hasn’t been fun at all. Thumpings at the hands of the clubs we claim to want to stand toe-to-toe with, which only serve to highlight the gulf in between us.


The Europa League gives us a chance to be the big fish for once, rather than swimming in a pond, fearful of being eaten with every movement.


The competition is more hotly contested than ever, but we should  be able to progress to the latter stages whilst simultaneously rotating our squad to deal with the more important Premier League fixtures. Let us not get twisted here, the Premiership should be our main focus, but there is no reason why we cannot fight on two fronts.


There will be difficulties of course. The fixture scheduling will take some getting used to, playing on a Thursday and then the following Sunday/Monday will be a task that requires all the skills of the myriad of backroom staff we currently employ. We have the squad to do it though.


Our group stage consists of BATE Borisov, FC Koln and Red Star Belgrade. Two difficult away trips, but there should be nothing there that should outwit us. Players such as Jack Wilshere, Reiss Nelson, David Ospina, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers, Francis Coquelin, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi, Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud have all been used sparingly this season, and they have more than enough in their locker to match and surpass these teams.


We currently do not have enough in our trophy cabinet to snub this competition. The Europa League, if we won it, would be one of the finest triumphs in our history. We have some amazing memories, but in terms of European honours, we could really do with this trophy in our cabinet.


If we were lucky enough to do so, then the European Super Cup beckons, and also, the Champions League again.


There could be some glittering memories made under the floodlights in The Emirates during a successful run to the final.

Our stadium sorely needs things like this, as the shadow of Highbury still looms over it. 

Arsenal 3-1 FC Koln – Away Fans, Howlers and Alexis is Back

An hours delay is not the best start to a game in a competition most deride as superfluous. 

Someone said that to David Ospina, and the Colombian decided he would try and beat it.

Thanks to masses of Koln fans making the trip to London without a ticket and trying to cram into the Clock End – and succeeding to a degree – it meant that safety was compromised and kickoff could not take place until 2105hrs – over an hour after it was designated.

Still, when our fans did all manage to take their seats, they were treated to the sight of our goalkeeper going a little unhinged and allowing the equally crazed Koln fans the opportunity to make more noise and set off more flares.

Our Cup Keeper raced out of his box to snaffle up a ball over the top of our defence. The problem wans’t that he didn’t get to it first. Oh no, Ospina was the proverbial greyhound. No, the problem was what he did when he got the ball.

The South American goalkeeper booted it flatly and straight to the opposition, and Ospina’s fellow countryman Cordoba lifted it over our keeper who was in No Man”s Land from all of 40 yards. 

1-0, and the first half was now a chase.

We did make chances when we were not busy wasting the opportunity for a final ball, but Koln’s Timo Horn was equal to Olivier Giroud’s header, and Theo Walcott wasted a good chance when found in a good position.

The first half was frustrating, and the boos that followed our players trudging off the pitch were born from a performance that was quite flat at times.

The second half was different though. With a much changed side, we began to find our verve, and it took five minutes to get the equaliser. 

Theo Walcott was at the centre of the action, and his finishing may have been wayward, but his positioning and running could not be faulted. He was found with a superb ball from Mohamed Elneny, and his touch took him wide. His cross was deflected upwards, and the rampaging bull that is Sead Kolasinac took just one touch to lash a volley past the Koln keeper Timo Horn.

From there, it was all Arsenal, and we were looking fully intent on getting the win, as opposed to the first half when there was just vague interest. 

Then, there was a sight to behold for all Gooners to rejoice in. Something that has the potential to change our season dramatically.

It wasn’t Jack Wilshere making an appearance, although he could make a huge dent.

It was the return of Alexis.

Sure, he has made appearances this season, but the goal he scored in this game was pure Chilean spice.

Taking the ball from out wide, he drifted inside, beat two players and from 25 yards, curled an exquisite effort into the top corner, where no goalkeeper’s fingers dare to tread. It was beautiful, it was Alexis.

Whilst he may still want to leave, my love for him will be compromised. However, I say we play him until his legs fall off. Make use of him in the short space of time we have him. 

There was time for one more goal, and it was Hector Bellerin who scored it. Theo Walcott was again involved. Alexis and Big Sead interchanged well, and the Bosnian crossed in. Jack Wilshere dummied it and left it for Theo who took a shot which Horn saved well. The rebound though, fell for the onrushing Bellerin who did manage to beat the German.

A job well done, and the Europa League has been started well. We can really make a go of this competition and it was a big plus that we fought back against a team who were better than their domestic form suggested.

Not only that, our team was massively different than the one we saw last weekend – and very different to the one that will line up against Chelsea this Sunday. 

The way we deal with the short recovery time will be crucial, but we have good form against the Blues recently. Time to convert that to a performance away from home for once. 

Arsenal Vs FC Koln – Europa League Preview

Our first step into the Europa League feels a little like the League Cup, but with a little extra spice.

Every year, the Coca-Cola/Rumbelows/Milk/Carling/Carabao Cup represents the opportunity for fans to see the next generation of our team, at a reasonable price for once.


For many seasons we have seen some incredible things performed by kids who dream of making it onto the biggest level, and us dipping our toes into europe’s second-tier competition means another chance for these kids to shine a little brighter.









The first game in our group stage sees us welcome FC Koln to The Emirates. The German club had a great season last year, but this year sees the Cologne team struggling badly. After three games, they currently sit bottom of the Bundesliga, with no points and just one goal scored.


Former fan favourite Lukas Podolski hails from the club, and the tattoo he sports of the Koln club crest shows his allegiance. The man with the hammer for a shot brings back happy memories for most, but he will not be torn in this match as a fan.


Does their poor form mean we can take the foot off the gas a little? We all know what our team plays like when we do that. For Arsenal, there is no middle ground. We either play awfully or we play teams off the park, so we must go into this game intent on three points. The Europa League may not be our desired level of competition, but we should be looking to win it, especially after years of pain in Europe.


We also have the chance to blood our kids more than in previous years. Usually, when we get dumped out of the League Cup it means our kids must bide their time until next season, but this group stage and the fixture congestion that comes with it means that our kids may well have to come of age if we are to progress and also keep our Premier League aims firmly in focus.


Reiss Nelson and Jack Wilshere are two names that should go straight into the lineup, but for varying reasons.


For Nelson, the youngster has been banging on the door for selection ever since our summer friendly games, and he has begun this term in the Under-23’s in blistering form – winning the August Player of the Month award. His trickery, ball control and eye for goal means he must be given a shot in the Europa League to gauge whether this is either where he belongs or if he needs more nurturing.


Jack is a conundrum. He hardly set the world alight after opting to join Bournemouth on loan last season, and since returning from the Vitality stadium inevitably injured, he has been fighting to get fit again. Now only match sharpness is needed, and what better way to attain this than the Europa League? Plus, our central midfield is hardly setting the world alight right now – a fit and firing Wilshere could make a huge difference to our team. This is a huge gamble though. For now, let us just see if he can stay fit for a few weeks.


The team should have a sprinkling of youth mingled with fringe players who have seen precious little gametime this season. Eddie Nketiah, Jo Willock and Ainslie Maitland-Niles can expect some minutes, as well as Calum Chambers, Theo Walcott, David Ospina and Alex Iwobi.


What of Alexis though?


The Chilean has recovered from his abdominal injury, but now seeks the last 5% he needs to be fully firing. Alexis may well play in this game, and instead of being swapped out for the following game at Chelsea on Sunday like the rest of the team probably will, Sanchez could stay in the team. It makes sense to get him flying as quickly as possible, and then play him as much as possible with an exit looking nailed on. Let us make the most of him whilst he is here.


FC Koln will be looking to play it tight and sneak away with a point most likely, especially with their season being worse than ours right now. No form means they need something, anything, to latch onto. They have some good players and last season showed they merit inclusion in Europe, but we must hurt them as they lay prone on the floor. We cannot afford to give anyone a second of recovery, we simply aren’t playing well enough.


Hopefully the players Arsene Wenger picks will go hell for leather to prove they are worthy of more minutes. that is the benefit of a packed squad, and this game is the stage in which they can show what they are made of.


So, for the first time, Thursday will see the The Emirates lit up for the Europa League. Let us all hope we have a fairly decent crowd and that our players put in a performance which is worthy of the badge.


Predicted Lineup – Ospina, Holding, Mertesacker, Chambers, Debuchy, Wilshere, Elneny, Nelson, Iwobi, Walcott, Alexis


Predicted Scoreline – Fingers crossed, 3-0 to The Arsenal.