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Arsenal Europa League Preview 2017/2018

So today was the day that most Arsenal fans would probably rather not have happened. For the first time in twenty-one years the club hasn't qualified for the Champion's League and instead has had to settle for the Europa League draw. Now for most fans this has been the embarrassment icing, on top of a quite unpleasant cake coming off the end of last season but for me it's different.

Before you say it, no I'm not settling for mediocrity and I'm not happy we finished fifth last season, but you can't mock the club with "qualify every year for Champion's League and get nowhere" whilst simultaneously whinging about the fact we are now in the Europa League. It may not be the UCL, but it's a trophy whichever way you slice it and one I believe Arsenal have a very good shot at winning. That is of course so long as Barcelona or Bayern Munich don't finish third in their Champion's League group!

Before we go that far however we have to focus on our own group and I do feel one of the few reasons Gooners can't get excited about the Europa League, is because the opposition are unfamiliar to us. So this piece is intended to help with that and alleviate some uncertainty by giving the lowdown on the other three teams in Group H. So without further ado.

FC BATE Borisov.

BATE play in the Belarusian Premier League and currently reign as champions (not all league winners are able to go into the UCL). BATE are also the league's most successful team, holding 13 titles 11 of which they won, on the bounce. Their other honours include three Belarusian Cups and four Super-Cups. They are the only team from Belarus to have qualified for the Champion's League (5x) and one of two, to have done the same in the Europa League (with Dinamo Minsk.)

Founded in 1973, BATE is actually an acronym which stands for Borisov Automobile & Tractor Electronics. They won the then "Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic League" three times before the club was disbanded in '84. They were then re-established in '96 and have won the Belarusian Premier League every season since as well as competing in the UEFA events.

Notable former players

Arsenal fans may not be all too familiar with BATE, but they should definitely have heard of them as former Gunner Aliaksandr Hleb who is Belarusian, has played there in the past. Along with Hleb, former Milan and Parma forward Vitali Kutuzov also played for BATE.

How will Arsenal fare?

Typically on paper this should be one of those games you'd expect Arsenal to win, but despite the acronym this is a club full of professional Footballers not some local businessman on their off day. BATE appear to have signed former Dinamo Moscow elusive utility midfielder, Stanislav Dragun too, who'll cause some problems for Arsenal in the middle of the park and the defenders need to keep tabs on creator, Mirko Ivanic and striker Anes Rusevic. But all in all this shouldn't be a tough trip for Arsenal.

FC Köln.

Köln (or Cologne, if you're from England) were the third team drawn out of Arsenal's group and arguably the most famous of the opposition hailing from the area of the same name, in Germany. They were founded in 1948 and are a merger of two clubs, Kölner Ballspiel-Club 1901 (formed in 1901) and SpVgg Sülz 07 (formed in 1907).

Their nickname is Die Geißböcke which means "The Billygoats" and stems from their mascot named Hennes who is an actual male goat (named after a former player and then later, after former Manager, Hans Weisweiler.) They hold several honours including the DFB-Pokal (4x), 2. Bundesliga (3x), the German Football Championship (1x), the Bundesliga (2x) and even made the Europa League final once, thirty-one years ago.

Notable former players

Other than former Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski, who's very excited by this group, Köln has been home to a few notable players including former West Ham and Liverpool defender, Rigobert Song (uncle of former Arsenal midfielder, Alex) and Tony Woodcock, another former Arsenal player (1982-86.)

How will Arsenal fare?

There's no doubt in many people's minds that the two matches against Köln will be Arsenal's most difficult of the group and with only two competitive matches between them, both in The Fairs Cup in 1971 (one win apiece) it is sure to be two great contests. Timo Horn is an ext underrated European keeper as is Jonas Hector at Left-Back (or DM.) If he plays, young forward Leonardo Bittencourt is definitely one the Arsenal defence will need to watch out for as well as Yuya Osako who has a mean right peg on him.

FK Crvena Zvezda (Red Star Belgrade.)

The final team drawn against Arsenal in Group H of the 2017 Europa League, is Fudbalski klub Crvena Zvezda, also known as Red Star Belgrade, who reside in Belgrade, Serbia. Founded in 1945 in the midst of World War II, the club started out as a Youth Physical Culture Society, initiated by active players, students and members of the Serbian United Antifascist Youth League. Just before this (Dec 1944) all Pre-War Serbian clubs had been abolished because Josip Broz Tito's communist regime labelled them all "collaborators" for trying to start a league.

Two of the most well known clubs in Belgrade were BSK Belgrade and SK Jugoslavija and Red Star was formed on the remains of the latter. They were given their stadium, offices, players and even their colors, as well as the logo with addition of a red star. The BSK Belgrade roster also joined along with some other players from Belgrade and central Serbia.

They won their first championship in 1951. They have won many accolades since that first Championship including the Yugoslav First League (19x), the First League of Serbia and Montenegro (5x), the Serbian Superliga (3x), the Yugoslav Cup (12x), the Serbia and Montenegro Cup (9x), the Serbian Cup (3x) and they're the only Serbian and ex-Yugoslav club to win the European Cup (UCL), in 1991, and the only team from Southeastern Europe to have won the Intercontinental Cup (1991 too.)

Notable former players

Red Star aren't known for having many "famous" former players but one who stood out to me was Dragan "Piksi" Stojkovic and the reason is because like every club in Arsenal's group he has an affiliation or connection to the club. Stojkovic at one stage played under Arsène Wenger at Grampus 8 in Japan, then went on to become his assistant there.

How will Arsenal fare?

Everybody assumes Köln is going to be the toughest game(s) of the competition but I beg to differ. I think they'll be the best and most entertaining but I feel the two against Belgrade will be the toughest. If players like midfielder, Mitchell Donald, or frontman Richmond Boakye are playing, Arsène's youngsters will have trouble. Their defenders like Abraham Frimpong and Dusan Andjelkovic will make it tough for Arsenal's front line too.

All in all

This year will be completely different to the previous two decades. An extra round if we get by the groups and teams we've never actively taken on before in such a competitive environment. All six matches on paper should be Arsenal's to win and I'm going to proceed with caution. I feel we'll progress relatively comfortable, probably come out with 14pts and top the group. But it won't be without it's moments of supporters holding their breaths and removing hearts from throats. I mean, when did Arsenal ever make it easy on themselves?

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