Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal will make their debut in the Europa League this week, hosting Cologne in Group H at the Emirates Stadium.
Following a fifth-place finish in the Premier League, the Gunners are playing in Europe’s secondary competition for the first time since their run to the UEFA Cup final in 2000 – where they lost on penalties to Turkish giants Galatasaray.
The Gunners gaffer is keen to take this competition seriously, but is expected to make a host of changes against a side who have not taken a single point from their opening three Bundesliga matches this season.
Meeting for the first time in UEFA competition, in their first appearance in the UEFA Europa League, means it’ll be a night of firsts at the Emirates.
Arsenal got their season back on tract last Saturday, beating Bournemouth 3-0 at home comfortable, with a brace from Danny Welbeck and a goal from Alexandre Lacazette securing three points following two away losses before the international break.
For the German side, Cologne have had a poor start to their campaign, losing all three of their matches so far including a very disappointing 3-0 defeat away at Augsburg.
It is worth nothing that the Gunners have lost five of their last seven home matches to German opposition, though the Bundesliga giants are yet to win in England after five away encounters.
Olivier Giroud vs Frederik Sorensen & Dominique Heinz
With Alexandre Lacazette expected to be dropped so he can participate for the Gunners at the weekend against Chelsea, fellow striker Olivier Giroud is expected to start on Thursday, with attacking duo Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi also potentially stepping in to support him.
His compatriot will see this game, and this competition, as a huge opportunity to get some minutes on the pitch and some goals as Giroud plays second fiddle to Lacazette.
Giroud will come up against a centre-back pairing yet to keep a clean sheet so far this campaign, having already conceded seven goals in three games. With Alexis Sanchez also likely to start, the Frenchman will be keen to lead his side to victory in Matchday One.
Arsene Wenger is said to be looking to rotate policy for this competition, starting right at the back, where David Ospina is expected to replace Petr Cech.
Ahead of him, they may well be chances for Reiss Nelson and Per Mertesacker – Laurent Koscielny is suspended after his sending off in the last 16 tie against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season.
The huge update for the Gunners is perhaps that Jack Wilshere is ready for his first start of the season in the centre of the park, alongside Elneny. We could also see the inclusion of Sanchez, Walcott and Iwobi.
For Cologne, the German sides are expected to remain unchanged for their long-awaited return to European football.
Potential Arsenal Starting Line-up: Ospina; Nelson, Holding, Mertesacker, Monreal, Kolasnic; Elneny, Wilshere; Iwobi, Walcott; Giroud
Potential Cologne Starting Line-up: Horn; Klunter, Sorensen, Heintz, Hector; Zoller, Lehmann, Hoger, Bittencourt; Osako, Cordoba
Arsene Wenger’s side are well-known for their habit of beating weak team at the Emirates, and in the form the Bundesliga giants have started this campaign, a comfortable win for the Gunners is expected.
F/W’s Prediction: Arsenal 3-0 Cologne