Arsenal’s Europa League Games

It will either fright or delight supporters to hear that Arsenal are firm favourites to progress from their Europa League group in first place.

For the first time since 1997, Arsene Wenger’s men will be playing European football on a Thursday night to start their European campaign.

As a top seeded team, the Gunners were unable to be drawn against European stalwarts like AC Milan, Lyon and Zenit St Petersburg, which, on-paper, should see them breeze through to the knock-out stages. That’s on-paper though, and Arsenal don’t always tend to follow the obvious routes.

Drawn in Group H, Thursday nights over the coming months will see Arsenal come up against BATE Borisov, Cologne and Red Star Belgrade (which will see them travel to the Ukraine, Germany and Serbia, respectively).

It’s easy to disregard the Europa League, especially in the group stages, with the club being so accustomed to Champions League Football, but as Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United showed last season, the less distinguished European trophy can represent an access route to the Champions league, if required – which it may well be, based on the table following the first few Premier League fixtures.

This article takes a closer look at the clubs that Wenger and his men will be facing over the following months in Group H of the Europa League.

FC Cologne

Thursday Septemeber 14th, 8.05pm, Emirates Stadium
Thursday Novemebr 23rd, 6pm, RheinEnergieStadion

Arsenal’s first Europa League game comes up against Bundesliga side Cologne, who qualified to play Europa League football by coming fifth in the league.

The Germans have had a poor start to their season, losing their first three games of the season, the most recent loss a 3-0 defeat at Augsburg just five days before they make their way to the Emirates.

Cologne’s torrid start to the season leaves them rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table after three games, so Arsenal’s first tie with them comes at the ideal time.

The German side’s stand-out player is defender Jonas Hector, a regular starter for the German National team, helping his nation win the Confederations Cup in the Summer gone by.

The striker whose goals assisted Cologne to their high-placed finish last season, Frenchman Anthony Modeste, left for the Chine Super League during the Summer on a loan move. His replacement, Jhon Cordoba, has not hit the ground running.

Former Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski spent much of his career playing for the fourth biggest side in Germany, amassing almost 200 senior appearances for the side.

This will be Cologne’s first taste of the Europa League group stages, with their last European appearance coming in the UEFA cup in 1992. They did however make it to the final of the UEFA Cup in 1985/86, where they were defeated over the course of 2 legs by Real madrid.

BATE Borisov

Thursday September 28th, 6pm, Borisov Arena
Thursday December 7th, 8.05pm, Emirates Stadium

Belarus’s most successful club are a name that will be familiar to many, having featured in five Champions’ League group stages – the only team from Belarus to ever qualify – the most recent in 2015/16.

They finished last season by winning their 13th Belarusian Premier League, their 11th in a row. While football in Belarus may not be renowned, this is undeniably impressive and shows the side should not be underrated.

The clubs most famous son is also a former Arsenal cult favourite, Alexander Hleb. The midfielder, who played for Arsenal between 2005 and 2008 before making the move to the Nou Camp with Barcelona, had four different spells with his country’s premier club BATE – one prior to joining the Gunners and three following it.

Potentially the trickiest game of Arsenal’s Europa League group comes away in Borisov on the second match day of the group. If Wenger’s men can gain a win or draw there, it’s difficult to not see them comfortably topping the group.

Red Star Belgrade

Thursday October 19th, 6pm, Rajko Mitic Stadium
Thursday November 2nd, 8.05pm, Emirates Stadium

Commonly known as Crvena Zvezda, Red Star Belgrade are a Serbian team with fantastic pedigree in European competition, having won the European Cup in 1990-91, becoming (and remaining) the only Serbian and ex-Yugoslavian club to have done so.

They also came close to winning this competition, the =n the UEFA Cup, coming runners-up in the 1978-79 season, being beaten at the final hurdle by Borussia Monchengladbach on home soil, in Belgrade.

Time has not been so kind to Red Star in recent times, however, as their appearances in the European top-flight suffered. After winning the Serbian League for the 26th time in the 2013-14 season following a six-year title drought, the club were barred from competing in the Champions League due to financial problems.

This is the eighth-time Belgrade have reached this stage of the Europa League; however, they have never progressed past the group stage.

Last season, the club came second place to their fierce rivals FK Partizan, qualifying them for this Europa League campaign. The Gunners play them during the middle two fixtures, with the first game in Mid-October a tricky fixture away in the Serbian capital of Belgrade.

Arsenal themselves are expected to play a much-weakened team from their win at Bournemouth at the weekend, with Wenger saying Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey will not be playing due to their international exertions the previous week.

Five more senior players – Alexandre Lacazette, Laurent Koscelny, Granit Xhaka, Petr Cech and Danny Welbeck – were absent from training at London Colney Wednesday and are expected not to feature.

Making a return, however, is Jack Wilshire, who will be returning from injury to play for Arsenal for the first time since the beginning of last season, prior to his loan move to Bournemouth.

Also expected to feature is French striker Olivier Giroud, who is chasing his 100th goal for the club. He joined Wenger for media duty on the eve prior to the first match of the European campaign, where the manager was in high spirits, saying:

“Of course the disappointment from not finishing top four was there, but we were one point short. We won 76 points last year. Now we are humble enough to be happy enough to win every single competition we are in.”

Arsenal’s Europa League campaign begins Thursday September 14th at 8.05pm at the Emirates against Cologne FC.