Arsenal get their Europa League campaign under way on Thursday by hosting Germany’s Cologne in Group H (live on BT Sport 2, 8.05pm kick-off).
This is the first time in 20 years the Gunners, who finished fifth in the Premier League last term, are starting a season in Europe’s second-tier tournament rather than the Champions League.
So how will they approach the competition? Here we look at some key things for boss Arsene Wenger to consider on that front.
A possible return to the elite
Arsenal need look no further than their old rivals Manchester United for evidence of why the Europa League is worth taking seriously. Along with the trophy, the winners get a place in the following season’s Champions League – something United were very much grateful for last term, their triumph in the final coming after they finished down in sixth place in the Premier League. The Gunners losing two of their opening four league games in 2017/18 suggests it would be advisable for them to make a committed effort in this competition.
With there being that Champions League spot to work towards, it will be particularly interesting to observe the extent to which and ways how Wenger opts to shuffle his pack for a tournament that has seen some significant rotating from managers in the past. What is clear is that in the Arsenal squad there are a number of notable players who are still waiting to start a game this season, including Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott. Jack Wilshere, if fit, is another who could get the chance to shine in this competition.
Where it would be perhaps least surprising to see a change made to the Arsenal side on Thursday is in goal. If Wenger decides to bring David Ospina in for Petr Cech, he would be repeating something he did for every one of Arsenal’s Champions League matches last season.
One of the major adjustments that comes with playing Europa League football after years in the Champions League is having regular Thursday evening games followed by Sunday returns to Premier League action. Again, it will be interesting to see Wenger’s selection as he contends with each week that features a Thursday night continental game, particularly when they are overseas. Arsenal have trips to Belarus to face BATE Borisov and Serbia to take on Red Star Belgrade ahead as well as the Cologne away match.