Europa League: How will Arsenal cope with the shift to Thursday night football?

There's no two ways about it, playing in the Europa League can play havoc with your fixture list. Arsenal fans will not be seeing too many games on Saturdays

Europa League: How will Arsenal cope with the shift to Thursday night football?

There's no two ways about it, playing in the Europa League can play havoc with your fixture list. Arsenal fans will not be seeing too many games on Saturdays

14 September 2017 Thursday 14:06
Europa League: How will Arsenal cope with the shift to Thursday night football?

The Uefa branding has been put up, the pre-match music has been prepped and a busload of German opposition has pulled in for a training session. But there's something different about preparations down at the Emirates this week.

For the first time since 1997 there is no Champions League football to start the season at Arsenal. Thursday's Europa League game against Cologne marks a departure for Arsene Wenger and his club, who are missing out on a seat at European football's top table this season after only finishing fifth in the Premier League last time around.

Only Real Madrid can better the Gunners' run of 19 consecutive seasons in the Champions League but, for this term at least, it's Thursday night football for Arsenal.

Defeat by PAOK ended their Uefa Cup run at the first hurdle 20 years ago, but with a place in next season's Champions League up for grabs for the eventual Europa League winners - a path already trodden by Manchester United - you can expect Wenger's squad to take the challenge seriously.

But with United manager Jose Mourinho calling his side's return to the Champions League "going back to the natural habitat" and Chelsea captain Gary Cahill saying the Blues "feel like we're back where we belong" as they faced Qarabag on Tuesday night, how does Wenger motivate his team to do things differently.

There's no two ways about it, playing in the Europa League can play havoc with your fixture list. Arsenal fans will not see too many games on a Saturday this season as regular Thursday night football has to be accommodated.

After facing Cologne on Thursday night, Arsenal go to Chelsea on Sunday lunchtime, while a 2,400-mile round trip to Belarus later this month is followed by a noon kick-off on the following Sunday. Another 2,000 miles to Belgrade and back on 19 October is followed up by a Sunday early afternoon trip to Everton.

But will the change affect the players? Or do the squad - all Champions League regulars - just move their schedules back 24 hours?

Former England defender Joleon Lescott - who played in the Uefa Cup/Europa League for both Everton and Manchester City - says the players will cope but all want to play in the Champions League.

BBC

Updated: 15.09.2017 10:23
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