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Arsenal get their UEFA Europa League campaign for the 2017-18 season started against German club 1. FC Koln on Thursday at the Emirates Stadium.
It will be a novel experience for the north London club after they failed to qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 20 years last season as they finished fifth in the Premier League.
Like Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United side in 2016-17, though, the Europa League could be crucial for Arsenal this season, as winning Europe’s second-tier competition is rewarded with a place in the Champions League.
Read on for a preview of the Gunners’ first clash in Group H against Koln, along with viewing details, team news and scheduling information.
Date: Thursday, September 14
Time: 8:05 p.m. BST, 3:05 p.m. ET
TV Info: BT Sport 2 (UK), FS1 (U.S.)
Live Stream: BT Sport website, Fox Sports Go
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is reportedly set to hand Jack Wilshere a start on Thursday for the Englishman’s first Gunners appearance in 13 months, per John Cross in the Mirror.
Cross added Wenger is planning to rotate his squad for the Europa League clash, with Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez all also expected to get a game.
Meanwhile, centre-back Laurent Koscielny will miss out as he is serving a one-game suspension, per UEFA.
Arsenal earned their best result of the season so far on Saturday as they beat Bournemouth 3-0 at home thanks to a Danny Welbeck double and an Alexandre Lacazette strike.
It got them back to winning ways after a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool and a narrow defeat to Stoke City.
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Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech—who won both the Champions League and Europa League when at Chelsea—has said the Gunners have a decision to make about how seriously to take the second-tier tournament, per the Evening Standard‘s James Olley:
“You make your decision. At Chelsea, we were really disappointed to have been knocked of the group stage [of the Champions League] but we decided that for the first time and the last time, hopefully, we play in the Europa League so we want to win.
“So you decide what you want to do—either you take it seriously and you go to win it and you give yourself the chance to do it or you give yourself different priorities and see how it goes.“
Winning the Europa League could be Arsenal’s best route to returning to Europe’s elite competition as there is no guarantee they will finish 2017-18 in the Premier League’s top four.
Heavy rotation from Wenger for Thursday’s match would suggest he does not see the Europa League as a priority.
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However, it could be a useful match for Sanchez to rediscover some sharpness, while the likes of Wilshere, Walcott and Giroud will be eager to impress.
Koln will be no pushovers—they finished fifth in the Bundesliga last term. But their form is not good following three defeats on the bounce in the German top flight that leave them bottom of the table.
They will be eager to claim the huge scalp of Arsenal, but the Gunners have home advantage and the squad depth to get their Europa League campaign off to a winning start.