Wenger to rest first-team players for Europa League opener

Olivier Giroud (left), Alexis Sanchez (centre) and Arsene Wenger (right)

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Arsene Wenger will rest a host of first-team players when Arsenal begin their Europa League campaign at home to FC Koln, but Alexis Sanchez and Jack Wilshere may feature.

Petr Cech, Laurent Koscielny, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka, Danny Welbeck and Alexandre Lacazette have all been left out of the squad

Wenger says the best way of returning to the Champions League next year is via a top-four Premier League finish.

“We did that for 20 years,” he said.

“We got 75 points last year and overall, I am humble enough to be happy to win every competition,” added the Frenchman.

“I think the best way to do it is through the Premier League.”

Jack Wilshere

Wenger has included Chile forward Sanchez in his squad for Thursday’s game.

The 28-year-old – Arsenal’s top scorer last season with 30 goals in all competitions – was close to joining Manchester City this summer before the Gunners pulled out of a £60m deal.

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He has made two appearances this campaign, the second from the bench in last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Bournemouth.

England midfielder Wilshere may also feature on Thursday, for what would be his first Arsenal appearance in more than a year.

He spent last season on loan at Bournemouth, making 27 appearances for the Cherries before breaking his leg – the latest in a long line of injuries – against Tottenham in April.

Giroud almost quit the Emirates

Olivier Giroud scores against Leicester

French striker Olivier Giroud is another player likely to start Thursday’s game, having come off the bench in all of the Gunners’ matches so far this season.

The 30-year-old has scored 99 goals for the club, but has fallen behind new signing Alexandre Lacazette and Danny Welbeck in the attacking pecking order.

And he revealed he came close to leaving the club this summer.

“It’s true that I was close to leaving the club because I said that I wanted to play,” he said.

“But after a big reflection with everybody around me, like my family and my close friends, I decided I wanted to stay at Arsenal and I thought the story was not over, not finished at Arsenal.

“The club bring me a lot and I think I give it back. I still want to improve again and again and win some more trophies for the club, so as I said to the boss our story is not finished, so everybody was pleased with that.”

One eye on Chelsea?

Arsenal face a tough test in the Premier League on Sunday when they travel to champions Chelsea.

Wenger, though, is not using the weekend’s fixture as an excuse for an under-par display in Europe three days beforehand.

“It is a good opportunity to show we can cope,” Wenger said.

“We played on Wednesday night in Barcelona and against Everton on Saturday morning [in the 2015-16 season]. It is a preconceived idea, football is down to how you perform on the day. Three days is plenty of time to recover.”

Arsenal have made a poor start to the campaign, losing twice in their opening four league games, but showed signs of recovery in the 3-0 win over Bournemouth last weekend.

Koln are bottom of the Bundesliga, having lost all three of their opening league matches.

    BBC Sport – Football

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