Arsenal will rest at least seven key first-team players as Arsene Wenger prepares to follow through on his promise that the Europa League would take a backseat.
Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Danny Welbeck, Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka were all missing from Arsenal training on Wednesday morning, rested as Wenger prioritises Premier League football over Uefa’s second-tier competition.
Indeed, this is the first time in 17 years that Wenger has played outside the Champions League and that season at least saw him take Arsenal to the Uefa Cup final.
While they lost that final to Galatasaray, it appears certain now that Wenger is taking an almost League Cup approach to the Europa and saving his first-teamers for the knockout stages of the competition.
Of course, should Arsenal fall short of progression then it will only serve as further embarrassment for a manager under increasing pressure in north London.
But equally, resting his best players is likely the best way to help Arsenal return to the Champions League as they chase a top four finish.
The Gunners are confident of qualifying through Group H after being drawn against Belarus’ BATE Borisov, Crvena Zvezda of Serbia and this week’s opponents, Koln.
The Bundesliga side are favourites to join the Gunners in the knockout stage.
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