UEFA Europa League – Östersund-Arsenal – Östersund v Arsenal background
There is a touch of footballing romance in the air as European debutants Östersund, led by unsung English coach Graham Potter, entertain the Premier League aristocrats of Arsenal in the first leg of the round of 32.
• The Swedish side have already played a dozen matches in their maiden European adventure, qualifying as the runners-up of Group J behind Athletic Club – and only on head-to-head records after both amassed 11 points. Arsenal, meanwhile, cruised through their first UEFA Europa League group stage, clinching top spot in Group H with a game to spare.
• The two clubs have never met in European competition, and Östersund have yet to face opposition from England.
• Arsenal have posted three wins and a draw in their four encounters with Swedish opponents. In each season that they have faced a team from Sweden, they have gone on to reach a European final – and lose it on penalties after a goalless draw.
• The Gunners defeated IFK Göteborg 5-1 on aggregate in the 1979/80 European Cup Winners’ Cup quarter-finals en route to losing the final on spot kicks to Valencia in Brussels. Twenty years later they were shoot-out sufferers once again against Galatasaray in Copenhagen in the final of the UEFA Cup, having beaten AIK home (3-1, with Fredrik Ljungberg among the Gunners’ scorers) and away (3-2) in the UEFA Champions League first group stage.
• Östersund are undefeated in their six European encounters at home, the five victories in that sequence all featuring clean sheets. Only Athletic have avoided defeat at the Östersund Arena, drawing 2-2 there on matchday three.
• Östersund are the first Swedish club to qualify for the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League. Four others – AIK, Elfsborg, Helsingborg and Malmö – have competed in the group stage but made no further progress. Indeed, the three victories Östersund posted in this season’s group stage matched the number managed by those four clubs put together.
• Arsenal have prolonged their European campaign into the spring for the 19th successive year – all under Arsène Wenger.
• The 1-0 defeat at Köln on matchday five ended Arsenal’s four-match winning run away from home in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League. They have lost just one of their last 11 matches across the two competitions, (W8 D2) with that 2000 final classed as a draw.
• First-time Swedish Cup winners in 2016/17, Östersund are enjoying an exceptional debut UEFA campaign, having eliminated Galatasaray, Fola Esch and PAOK during the qualifying phase and booked their passage to the round of 32 with a game to spare.
• Arsenal are making their UEFA Europa League debut this season; their last European campaign outside the UEFA Champions League was the 1999/2000 UEFA Cup, which ended with that penalty shoot-out defeat in the final against Galatasaray. They defeated French club Nantes in that season’s third round, or last 32, winning 3-0 at home and drawing 3-3 away.
Links and trivia
• Östersund coach Potter played for Birmingham, Wycombe, Stoke, Southampton, West Brom, Northampton, Reading, York, Boston, Shrewsbury and Macclesfield; he was also capped once by England Under-21s.
• Four Östersund players – Douglas Bergqvist, Jamie Hopcutt, Samuel Mensah and Curtis Edwards – have made senior appearances at various levels of English football.
• Östersund concluded their 2017 Swedish Allsvenskan campaign on 5 November. They finished fifth – the highest final placing in the club’s history – 14 points behind champions Malmö. The 2018 Allsvenskan season starts on 1 April.
• Arsenal pair Laurent Koscielny and Olivier Giroud played in both of France’s matches against Sweden in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign, winning 2-1 at home and losing 2-1 away. Giroud opened the scoring for Les Bleus in the defeat at the Friends Arena.
• Englishman Graham Potter has steered Östersund from the Swedish fourth tier to the UEFA Europa League knockout phase – picking up the club’s first ever major trophy, the Swedish Cup, en route – since taking the reins in 2011. He played for a number of clubs at various levels of England’s Football League – chiefly as a full-back – as well as eight games in the 1996/97 Premier League for Southampton.
• Arsène Wenger has been the Arsenal manager since 1996, leading the Gunners to three English titles, a record seven FA Cup wins and the 2006 UEFA Champions League final. A player of modest repute, he made his name as a coach with Nancy and Monaco in his native France before moving to Japan for a brief spell with Nagoya Grampus 8. He is the longest serving manager in the Premier League.