Arsenal should come up smelling of roses in Cologne
Europa League Group H
BT Sport 2, 6pm Thursday
Arsenal are basking in the afterglow of Saturday's 2-0 victory over fierce rivals Tottenham and they can follow up by beating Bundesliga basement boys Cologne to ensure top spot in Europa League Group H.
The Gunners team who take to the field at the RheinEnergieStadion will be unrecognisable from the 11 who dispatched the Lilywhites but Arsene Wenger's policy of fielding fringe players and youngsters for European nights has paid off, with the Londoners taking ten points from a possible 12.
It all started with a hard-fought 3-1 success at home to Cologne on matchday one.
Backed by a huge away following, Cologne opened up a 1-0 half-time lead but they fell apart in the second half against a strong Arsenal side featuring several first-team regulars.
Since then Wenger has taken a more experimental approach to his Europa League selections, handing minutes to six players with no Premier League experience – Matt Macey, Marcus McGuane, Reiss Nelson, Ben Sheaf, Joe Willock and Eddie Nketiah.
But Arsenal have continued to put in good performances and experienced fringe players such as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Oliver Giroud have shown their professionalism.
Giroud – on target on two of the last three European nights – is back in contention after missing the weekend win over Spurs with a minor thigh strain and his physical presence should ensure that Cologne's dodgy defence have their hands full.
Cologne have conceded 30 goals in 16 Bundesliga and Europa League games this season and are bottom of the German top flight with just two points from a possible 36.
But the main difference to the team who finished fifth in the league last season is the lack of firepower.
They are sorely missing striker Anthony Modeste, who has moved to Chinese Super League team Tianjin Quanjian on a two-year loan.
Modeste scored 25 of Cologne's 51 league goals last term, putting him third in the Bundesliga top-scorer charts behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Robert Lewandowski.
Cologne stayed in Europa League qualification contention by winning 5-2 at home to Bate Borisov on matchday four but have suffered back-to-back league defeats since.
Long-serving manager Peter Stoger is desperate for a victory in any competition to relieve some of the mounting pressure but his team are short of quality and confidence and look ill-equipped to compete against a second-string Arsenal.
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Simon Zoller has picked up a thigh injury and will miss the rest of the year. Dominique Heintz, Christian Clemens and Leonardo Bittencourt have missed training this week and are doubts.
Theo Walcott (illness) is out but fellow forwards Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck are back in contention.
Cologne have lost 13 of their last 17 matches.
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