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Cologne sniffing an upset with Arsenal set to rotate

Europa League Group H
BT Sport 2, 8.05pm Thursday


Arsenal were on the drift before their Europa League group-stage debut after Arsene Wenger revealed he’s set to ring the changes – and that could lead to a thriller at the Emirates.

The Gunners, who were as short as 3-10 to beat Cologne on Wednesday morning, had been eased to 1-2 by Betfair during the afternoon after Wenger gave plenty of clues that Sunday’s showdown with Chelsea is more important to him than the Group H clash with Bundesliga back-markers Cologne.

A whole raft of first-team aces, including Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and in-form Danny Welbeck, sat out training as Wenger looked set to take a League Cup approach to Europa League selection.

A massive squad at Arsenal will ensure the Gunners are still relatively strong but Cologne have to be delighted that Wenger is planning for Chelsea as much as for them.

None of that means the FA Cup winners shouldn’t go off short-priced favourites against a Cologne side who have lost all three of their Bundesliga outings this season.

But a pick-and-mix look to the hosts against a German outfit who are naturally forward-thinking could well add up to decent entertainment. Both teams to score is a 9-10 shot and looks worthy of interest when you consider the ease with which Arsenal were cut to shreds by Leicester and Liverpool this term. Cologne have yet to keep a clean sheet.

Backing both teams to score and over 2.5 at 11-8 is a slightly riskier play but well worth a punt.

Cologne should carry a threat going forward although record signing Jhon Cordoba is yet to find his feet – or the net – since taking on goalscoring responsibilities following Anthony Modeste’s exit. Modeste bagged 25 last term, pretty much half Cologne’s output for the season.

The Billy Goats also have a big league assignment of their own to worry over this weekend - they are off to Dortmund and Peter Stoger knows he’ll be seriously under scrutiny if they make it four defeats in a row.

The Germans, who finished fifth in the Bundesliga last season, are a 15-2 chance and had they been in better form may have been worth considering.

But they are going to be right under the cosh against a home team who have won their last seven matches at The Emirates. Saturday’s 3-0 thumping of Bournemouth will have settled plenty of nerves.

For all Wenger’s changes, he’s still going to have Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi at his disposal in attack so it’s hard to see them not finding the net. They haven’t failed to score at home since last November’s League Cup loss to Southampton.

But further back they are look as if they are going to be vulnerable. There’s going to be yet another new partnership to find in central midfield which in turn will be patrolling in front of a new-look defence.

It’s hard to have faith in Arsenal at tight odds these days. They still have it in them to batter anyone but tonight’s examination might be competitive.

Recommendation
Both teams to score & over 2.5 goals

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Match in Focus

18:00 TODAY BT2

Cologne v Arsenal

Home Win Draw Away Win
Key stats
  • Cologne are bottom of the Bundesliga with two points
Expert verdict
Arsene Wenger has sent out his reserve players throughout this Europa League campaign and that's unlikely to change now Arsenal have secured their spot in the last 32. Cologne are having a shocking season so even a makeshift Gunners outfit could come out on top and Alex Iwobi, fresh from a double for Nigeria against Argentina, can notch first.