The Gunners struggled to unpick a stubborn Cologne defence due to fielding a line-up bereft of creativity.
Arsenal may have finished top of their Europa League group but the performance against Cologne showed that Arsene Wenger’s second string won’t be good enough to reach the latter stages of the Europa League. The stalemate between BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade means that the Gunners finish top of Group H despite a draw and defeat in their last two tournament games.
Wenger didn’t need to field a full strength line-up for Arsenal’s away match in Cologne and past results would suggest the team he fielded on paper are more than capable of securing a positive result against the side currently bottom of the Bundesliga. However, a combination of Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny in midfield appeared to put Jack Wilshere in shackles for much of the game with the Englishman forced to drop deep and collect the ball.
Coquelin, who has looked a shadow of the defensive midfielder who shone alongside Santi Cazorla at the Etihad two years ago, has always been a limited player but was culpable for the eventual conceded penalty after misplacing a pass in his own half which Sehrou Guirassy latched onto to win a dubious spot kick. If the free-kick won by Alexis Sanchez against Tottenham was questionable then this one certainly was.
Many of the Arsenal second sting haven’t completed 90 minutes since their last Europa clash against Red Star Belgrade at the start of the month. That game looked like a training match at times and for much of Thursday night’s game it played out much the same. The only different from the Emirates was FC Koln’s vociferous home support which certainly adds more glamour and appeal to a much chastised competition.
Qualification may be secured but Arsenal need the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez if they are going to reach the latter stages of the Europa League. The likes of Jack Wilshere, Alex Iwobi and Reiss Nelson have shown flashes of their quality but Wenger’s reluctance to field Wilshere alongside a defensive midfielder against Cologne proved the side’s downfall once more.
Three centre backs, two defensive midfielders and Calum Chambers at right-back looked defensive on paper and the result is that Arsenal stemmed their own attacking flow. The good news where Wenger is concerned is that the Gunners have come through the game, reintroduced Danny Welbeck into the set-up following his injury and given a handful of fringe players game time they wouldn’t have got otherwise.
Victory in this competition is crucial to Arsenal’s hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions League and they will need to start fielding their regular first team starts when the knockout stages come into play.