Preview: 1. FC Köln v Arsenal

Olivier Giroud Arsenal

Arsenal are cruising in the Europa League and can secure their place in the next round when they face Köln at RheinEnergieStadion on Thursday.

Europa League
23 November 2017
Kick-off 20:00 CET
Venue: RheinEnergieStadion

Referee: V. Bezborodov
Assistants: V. Danchenko, M. Gavrilin
Fourth official: A. Lunev

Head-to-head summary

Köln 3 0 0 3
Arsenal 3 3 0 0

Previous encounter

Arsenal 3-1 Köln 14/09/2017 (Europa League)

Arsenal goalscorers: S. Kolasinic (49′) A. Sanchez (67′) H. Bellerin (81′)
Köln goalscorers: J. Cordoba (9′)

Players to watch

The Europa League is not a big deal for Arsenal, neither the club nor the fans, despite what they may say about taking it seriously. But for Jack Wilshere the competition is a chance to shine.

The English midfielder is still trying to bounce back from his numerous injury woes, and has used the continental stage to make his most successful forays back into the first team. Another commanding performance in western Germany will help him to force his way back into Arsene Wenger’s first-choice XI.

Few Köln players can say that they’ve been playing well, considering the team’s league position and form, but if their injury-ravaged side is to succeed they will need their creative talents, like midfielders Leonardo Bittencourt and Milos Jojic, to be at their best.

Team form and quotes

They Gunners didn’t need to be at their best to win their first three Group H matches on the trot, before being held to a 0-0 draw in their second match against Serbian side Red Star Belgrade. They now need just another point to secure their status as group winners.

Köln, on the other hand, are bottom of the group having lost their first three matches, but their most recent outing, a 5-2 win over BATE Borisov, gives them a shot at redemption. They can, maybe, make it to the next round, but will need to give their home fans three points to stand any chance of avoiding elimination.

As far as league form goes, Arsenal enter the match off of a 2-0 derby win over Tottenham. They have won five of their last seven, with the other two being defeats, to sit sixth in the Premier League standings.

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Köln, meanwhile, are rock-bottom of the Bundesliga with just two points to their name after suffering 10 defeats already this season.

The earlier meeting between the two sides, at the Emirates Stadium in London back in September, saw Arsenal sweep to a 3-1 win. But they only pulled themselves together in the second half after Jhon Cordoba had put the German visitors ahead, before second-half goals from Sead Kolasinac, Alexis Sanchez, and Hector Bellerin turned the tie around.

Looking ahead to the match, Köln manager Peter Stöger said that “it is certainly a large challenge, but we want to use the opportunity we have to remain in this competition. We are still in it.”

German defender Per Mertesacker has challenged his team-mates to deliver the same intensity they showed in the north London derby on Saturday.

“I think it was a brilliant example of us bringing it all – fans and players together,” Mertesacker said.

“It was a great atmosphere and lovely to see how we were together in every single situation. Even in the stands, on the bench or actually on the field, we seemed to be together.

“The intensity was great from the start and I think it is human on those occasions that we give 20 per cent more. I think it is like that.

“But we want to reproduce, especially on Thursday. They set a good example for us, those players who came in. We saw that intensity and to repeat that tomorrow and Sunday will be a big, big challenge for us. But we embrace it.”

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Team news

In team news, Wenger could be set to rotate his team, meaning that Wilshere and Olivier Giroud could feature, the latter having missed their latest match with a knee injury. Theo Walcott is a doubt with illness, while Santi Cazorla remains on the sidelines.

The injury list of longer for Stoger, with Jonas Hector, Simon Zoller, and Dominique Heintz all set to miss out while there are further doubts on the fitness of Marco Hoger, Marcel Risse, Christian Clemens and Nikolas Nartey.