MX23RW : Saturday, February 16 00:07:33
Nov 23, 2017 at 6pm UK at ​RheinEnergieStadion
FC Koln
Guirassy (62' pen.)
FT(HT: 0-0)

Preview: FC Koln vs. Arsenal

Sports Mole previews the Europa League clash at the RheinEnergieStadion between FC Koln and Arsenal.

Arsenal head into their Europa League clash against FC Koln at the RheinEnergieStadion needing just one point to ensure that they progress through to the last 32 of the competition as winners of Group H.

As for FC Koln, they are still in contention to progress as runners-up, but the Bundesliga outfit could do with taking advantage of their final home fixture before a trip to Red Star Belgrade at the start of December.

FC Koln

Jhon Cordoba celebrates scoring during the Europa League game between Arsenal and FC Koln on September 14, 2017© SilverHub

FC Koln have endured a disastrous run in the Bundesliga this season, but their 5-2 victory over BATE Borisov has given Peter Stoger's side hope of unlikely progression in the Europa League.

The Billy Goats lost each of their opening three games in Group H, with five goals being conceded in a row after initially taking the lead against Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium back in September.

However, an inspired comeback against BATE has lifted spirits at Koln - at least on the European stage - and victory over Arsenal on Thursday night would at least leave their fate in their own hands ahead of a trip to Belgrade.

That said, Stoger is unable to ignore the club's run on the domestic scene, with just two points and four goals being registered from their opening 12 matches in the Bundesliga.

It leaves Stoger having to decide whether to rotate his squad for the visit of one of the giants of European football, but such is Arsenal's reputation that Stoger may believe a win will have more benefit to his players than an extra couple of days' rest.

Japan international Yuya Osako could be tasked with trying to breach the North Londoners' defence, having netted a double against BATE on matchday four.

Recent form: LLDLLL
Recent form (all competitions): DWLWLL


Arsene Wenger watches on during the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Red Star Belgrade on November 2, 2017© SilverHub

Throughout Arsenal's Europa League campaign, Arsene Wenger has opted to rotate his team and give opportunities to some of the club's academy players but so far, the approach has paid off for the Frenchman.

Most importantly, the Gunners have qualified for the knockout stages with two games to spare, but the likes of Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson have been given the platform to show whether they are good enough for a regular place in the senior squad.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles also joins that list with the England Under-21 international having played every minute of the campaign so far, and young goalkeeper Matt Macey will only benefit from having kept a clean sheet in the last game against Red Star Belgrade.

Wenger will still call upon some of his first-team players for the remaining two matches, but there is a chance for Eddie Nketiah to be handed his first start in a Gunners shirt, having already scored twice against Norwich City in the EFL Cup.

Jack Wilshere is expected to start for Arsenal on Thursday night, but the long-serving midfielder will be hoping that it is his last outing in Europe before Christmas as he looks to make an impression in the Premier League.

Danny Welbeck is one player who has enjoyed regular minutes in the top flight, but the forward needs to improve his match sharpness after his recovery from a hamstring problem, and the England international will hope to add to his three goals for the season in Germany.

Recent form: WLWWLW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWDLW

Team News

Olivier Giroud on his knees during the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Red Star Belgrade on November 2, 2017© Offside

Arsenal's Olivier Giroud is expected to be passed fit for the trip to Germany having sat out the North London derby with a minor thigh injury.

Rob Holding and Calum Chambers could also feature after returning to training, but Theo Walcott is expected to miss out as he continues to recover from illness.

Mathieu Debuchy could make a third start in the competition, while David Ospina should get the nod over Matt Macey between the sticks.

FC Koln trio Jonas Hector, Simon Zoller and Dominique Heintz are all likely to be sidelined for the game at the RheinEnergieStadion.

Former Chelsea forward Claudio Pizarro should feature in Stoger's squad, but the veteran may have to make do with a spot among the replacements.

FC Koln possible starting lineup:
Horn; Klunter, Sorensen, Maroh, Rausch; Clemens, Lehman, Ozcan, Bittencourt; Osako, Cordoba

Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Ospina; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Holding; Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Willock, Nelson; Wilshere, Welbeck, Giroud

Head To Head

Thursday's match will represent the third meeting between the two sides, with Arsenal winning twice and FC Koln emerging victorious on one occasion.

The previous two-legged tie between the teams took place in the Fairs Cup all the way back in 1971, with Arsenal claiming a 2-1 win at Highbury before the German side prevailed 1-0 in the reverse fixture.

Arsenal will be playing German opposition for a record-breaking 34th time, with Germany currently sitting level with Italy on 33 games and Spain just behind on 31 matches.

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We say: FC Koln 1-2 Arsenal

Wenger will once again make mass changes to his starting lineup for the trip to Germany, but even the second-string side have shown that they are capable of winning away in Europe. We expect that to continue on Thursday night, with the Gunners edging a tight encounter.

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Arsene Wenger watches on during the Premier League game between Arsenal and Bournemouth on September 9, 2017
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