“Who are Crvena Zvezda?” asked several perplexed Arsenal fans when the Europa League groups were announced. A bit of research would have quickly revealed that the team with the funny name actually had won the European Cup more times than Arsenal. Crvena Zvezda are more commonly known by their English name, Red Star Belgrade, and the Serbian side won the biggest prize in European football back in 1991. The game has changed a lot since then, with UEFA changing the format of European competition to benefit leagues from Europe’s larger, richer countries, leading to Red Star losing their star players and missing out on the vast wealth of the Champions’ League. Visiting Arsenal fans are in for a treat though. The atmosphere at the Rajko Mitic Stadium is one of the best in Europe, and Belgrade itself is full of history, along with a great nightlife with its underground clubs and party barges on the River Sava attracting clubbers from across Europe. Keep your eye on the pitch though, and you might see the next Serbian star in action before he gets snapped up by one of Europe’s footballing superpowers, or in the case of Ghanain striker Richmond Boakye, before he gets snapped up by Everton.

Like Red Star, FC Koln’s glory days are also behind them, they’ve won the Bundesliga twice, and managed to reach the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1979 before coming unstuck against Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forest. But more recently, they’ve found themselves in Germany’s second tier, only regaining their top-flight status in 2014. They are a side on the up though, and have some quality players like Japanese international Yuya Osako and possible future German national team ‘keeper Timo Horn, although they did send last season’s star striker Anthony Modeste off on loan to China. Like Belgrade, Cologne’s history makes it a great city for Arsenal fans to enjoy a football related mini-break.

For fans at least, Belarusian side BATE Borisov provide the most difficult journey. While Belarus is much closer than trips to Russia or Kazakhstan, it’ll likely be a trip taken by only the most diehard Arsenal supporters. In the great tradition of former Soviet clubs, the club’s name has an agricultural connection, with BATE standing for Borisov Automobile Tractor Electronics. But unlike many of the other sides in the former Soviet Union, BATE don’t have any Brazilians in their squad, with all their players coming from Eastern Europe. They won’t be pushovers though, and have been in the Champions’ League themselves a few seasons back. If you are in need of a tourguide, try and get hold of Alexander Hleb. The former Arsenal man played for the club at the start and end of his career, and says the city is nicer than Birmingham (probably).

Arsenal may not be in the Champions’ League this season, but that’s no reason for fans to not enjoy the clubs’ European Journey, from Belgrade and Cologne, hopefully all the way to Lyon in May. At least this year one thing is certain: Arsenal’s campaign won’t end with fans drowning their sorrows in a beer hall in Munich.