Arsenal should play Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere and Reiss Nelson to make sure of victory against Cologne in the Europa League


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Gunns at the ready

Arsene Wenger’s challenge is to get the balance between youth and experience right to maximise his chances of emulating Manchester United last season

ARSENAL take on Cologne in the Europa League on Thursday at the Emirates.

Having not had to play in the tournament for 17 years, only a win is acceptable for Arsene Wenger’s side.

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Arsenal are gearing up for their first game of this season’s Europa League

Gunners last played in Europe's second-tier back in 1996-97

PA:Press Association

Gunners last played in Europe’s second-tier back in 1996-97

The last time the Gunners played in this competition it was called the Uefa Cup and they were beaten by Galatasaray on penalties in the final.

Football Whispers look at what team Arsenal should play against the Bundesliga side and whether Arsene Wenger should go with youth, or play his first-choice side.

Just like Manchester United showed last season, the Europa League can provide teams with a gateway back into the Champions League.

It’s always been seen as the poorer little brother of Europe’s elite competition, but when teams like Arsenal can’t guarantee they can finish in the top four, it requires respect and can’t just be dismissed.

In the early stages, there is scope to find the balance between youth and experience.

Arsenal were handed a favourable draw, with fixtures against BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade also to come.

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Alexis Sanchez could be in line for a start against Koln at the Emirates

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Alexis Sanchez could be in line for a start against Koln at the Emirates

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Koln have lost three of their four games this term. In fact, their only win came against TS Lever in the DFB Pokal – a side who play in the fifth tier.

A 1-0 defeat to Borussia Monchengladbach on the opening day was followed up with a 3-1 home defeat to Hamburg.

Then at the weekend they fell again, conceding another three away at Augsburg.

Arsenal shouldn’t need to be at full-strength to take on Koln this Thursday, but you can’t risk taking the chance on a full XI of inexperienced kids.

Winning 3-0 at home to Bournemouth on Saturday will give Arsene Wenger’s team confidence. However, it’s still been a shaky start to the season.

Conceding three and going behind to Leicester was masked by the 4-3 win, but defeats to Stoke City and Liverpool exposed weaknesses in the North London side.

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Jack Wilshere could be eased back into the first-team against Koln


Jack Wilshere could be eased back into the first-team against Koln

They still have a strong squad, and with some seasoned heads, mixed with some of their promising young players, the Gunners could still go far in the competition.

Here is how Arsenal should line up for Thursday’s fixture at the Emirates.

With Petr Cech in goal, and Shkodran Mustafi in front, you have the start of a strong spine.

With Laurent Koscielny suspended, Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal are the best options on either side.

In midfield, this would be the perfect chance to hand Jack Wilshere some minutes.

He hasn’t played for the Gunners in 13 months and is now fit after recovering from a broken leg.

On the right, Wenger would have the chance to reward Reiss Nelson for his superb displays for the Under-23 side.

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Reiss Nelson is also pushing for a start in Arsene Wengers XI

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Reiss Nelson is also pushing for a start in Arsene Wenger’s XI

The 17-year-old has scored six goals in four games, including a stunning free-kick against Manchester United on Friday.

He’s able to play as a wing-back or as a central midfielder.

With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gone, Nelson has all the attributes to replace the versatility the Liverpool signing offers.

Up front, Wenger could opt to give starts to Theo Walcott and Alexis Sánchez. Both have combined for 108 minutes so far and need more time on the pitch to gain match sharpness.

On the left, Danny Welbeck deserves another start after his excellent display against the Cherries.

Rather than picking a young side that could face the wrath of the home crowd, adding players who need minutes with some exceptional youth talent is the ideal mixture for Thursday’s fixture.

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