Saturday 23 September 2017

Arsene Wenger insists Arsenal will take Europa League 'seriously' but will rotate squad for visit of Cologne

Wenger is prepared to use the full depth of his squad in the Europa League CREDIT: Action Images via Reuters/Alan Walter
Wenger is prepared to use the full depth of his squad in the Europa League CREDIT: Action Images via Reuters/Alan Walter

Jeremy Wilson

Arsene Wenger is planning significant rotation for Arsenal’s Europa League debut on Thursday night, with Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud in line for their first starts of the season.

Alexis Sanchez is also likely to be involved against Cologne at the Emirates as he tries to build match fitness following such a disjointed beginning to the season but Wenger is especially mindful of the looming Premier League match against Chelsea on Sunday lunchtime.

He was already expected to treat the Europa League more like the League Cup than the Champions League in his team selections and his priority this season is to get Arsenal back into the Premier League’s top four and mount a sustained title challenge. It is Arsenal's first season out of the Champions League since 1997-98.

Jack Wilshere was told during the summer that the Europa League would be the most likely initial first-team stage but Wenger also wants to give further match time to the likes of Alex Iwobi, Mohamed Elneny, Reiss Nelson, Per Mertesacker, David Ospina and Calum Chambers. He has included many young players in his squad, as well as Mathieu Debuchy who has played just 23 times for Arsenal since joining the club in 2014. That last of those matches was almost two years ago against Bournemouth.

Francis Coquelin will definitely miss the Cologne match with the hamstring injury he suffered against Bournemouth and Wenger will still involve some of his best players at least in the squad. “We will take it seriously but the priority is to focus on the Premier League and combining the two,” he said. “Then, in December, we will see, but at least we want to qualify for the next round. Thursday to Sunday morning is short so I have to think about that. But we have to win at home and you know how it is when you don’t win at home.”

Petr Cech, who won the Europa League at Chelsea, says that it can be a worthwhile target. “We decided that it was the first time and hopefully the last time we played the Europa League and we wanted to win it,” he said. “You decide how to approach it. You go in it to win it, give yourself a chance to do it or make different priorities and then see how it goes. It’s always nice to win a European trophy, regardless of which one it is.”

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