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Arsenal’s Europa League Group Preview

The name of Arsenal being associated with a competition like the Europa League has been nothing more than unthinkable in my lifetime.

Under Arsene Wenger, the Gunners have been in Europe’s elite competition since he took charge of his first full season nearly 20 years ago.

But this season poses a new challenge for the Frenchman; a debatably lesser one than that posed by the Bayerns and Barcelonas of recent Champions League campaigns but nevertheless a fresh one.

Ahead of the Emirates Stadium’s very first fixture of this competition I have analysed and dissected the opposition Arsenal face in Group H, as well as some key names to look out for, and possibly avoid, during the tournament’s later stages.

FC BATE Borisov

League Position 2016/17 – 1st (Belarusian Premier League)

European Football 2016/17 – N/A (Lost in 3rd UCL Qualifier and UEL Playoff)

UEFA Ranking – 85

According to the UEFA ranking system, Belarusian side FC BATE Borisov pose the Gunners’ greatest challenge this year in the group stage. Borisov have won their league title for an astonishing 11 consecutive seasons and have been part of Europe’s elite for five of the past nine seasons. Their top-scorer in the league last season was 33-year-old Vitali Rodionov. The Belarusian striker has been at BATE since 2006, making over 253 appearances for the club, meaning he is somewhat of a cult hero.

1. FC Koln

League Position 2016/17 – 5th (German Bundesliga)

European Football 2016/17 – N/A (Finished 9th in Bundesliga 2015/16)

UEFA Ranking – 125

A name that will be familiar to some Gunners fans is that of the third club drawn in their group this year, 1.FC Koln of Germany. The clubs did some significant transfer business back in 2012 which saw Cologne legend Lucas Podolski join Arsenal. And as far as FC Koln are concerned last season’s Bundesliga was a success for them with an admirable 5th place finish; the highlight being a 7-0 win away to Preussen in the first round of the DFB Cup at the start of the year. Over the summer the German side lost their top scorer Anthony Modeste on loan to Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian FC. The Frenchman scored 25 league goals last season and was the German side’s stand out player. But the recent window did see a club record signing come into the club; Columbian striker Jhon Cordoba will be keen to prove to the Cologne fans that he can fill Modeste’s shoes.

FK Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade)

League Position 2016/17 – 2nd (Serbian SuperLiga)

European Football 2016/17 – N/A (Lost in 3rd UCL Qualifier and UEL Playoff)

UEFA Ranking – 229

Red Star, whilst Arsenal’s supposedly easiest fixture this year, are one of the historic names of European football. Between 1956 and 1963, the Serbian SuperLiga side was a regular name in the last 8 of the respective competitions (either the European Cup or the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup). During the 1990-91 season, Belgrade actually won the competition; getting the edge over Marseille on penalties 5-3. As for the modern generation, the key men include left-back Dusan Andelkovic and central-midfielder Mitchell Donald, both who made the SuperLiga team of the year last season. As for goal threat, their main man is Richmond Boakye, who already has 7 goals in the Europa League this season through qualifiers.

Adam Whyte
Adam Whytehttp://www.adamhwhyte.com
A sports journalism student currently studying at Southampton Solent University
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