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Arsenal’s Europa hopes to be tested by Swedish minnows

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Ostersunds’ Nigerian forward Alhaji Gero (L) celebrates scoring with Iranian midfielder Saman Ghoddos during the Europa League group F match against Athletic Bilbao in Ostersund, Sweden on October 18, 2017 © TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP/File / Robert HENRIKSSON

NYON, Switzerland, Dec 11Arsenal’s hopes of Europa League glory will be tested in the last 32 by Swedish minnows Ostersunds, ironically coached by the only English manager left in European competition and founded in the same month Arsene Wenger took over the Gunners.

In the draw made Monday, the Gunners were pitched against the central Swedish club coached by Graham Potter, who played for Southampton in the Premier League as part of a long career that saw him win one under-21 England cap and make 307 Football League appearances.

Now 42, Potter led Ostersunds — created in October 1996 when three local clubs (Ope IF, IFK Ostersund, Ostersund/Torvalla FF) merged — to the Swedish Cup last season, having taken the side from the Swedish fourth division to the top flight in six seasons.

Far from being intimidated, Ostersunds seemed ecstatic with the draw, their English manager freely admitting his outfit would not be favourites against Wenger’s Arsenal, currently sitting fifth in the Premier League.

“I think it’s really cool to go home to England and meet one of the best teams in the Premier League,” said Potter, who first signed for Ostersunds in 2010.

“Now we are really underdogs,” he added in a report in Swedish on the club’s website.

The club, who claimed a shock win over Galatasaray in the second qualifying round and then finished second in a group featuring Athletic Bilbao and Hertha Berlin after only losing one game, reported that Potter looked delighted as he and the club chairman realised who they had been drawn against.

“Jubilation in Ostersund, OFK meet Arsenal in the next round,” the club said on Twitter.

Meanwhile, Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic face Roberto Mancini’s ambitious Zenit St Petersburg, who beat Rangers in the 2008 UEFA Cup final.

“It’s never easy playing in Russia,” Celtic’s Olivier Ntcham tweeted.

Celtic dropped out of the Champions League, as did Napoli and RB Leipzig, who will meet each other in what appears to be the toughest draw of the round.

Lyon, who are desperate to get to the final which will be played at their own stadium, will face Villarreal, while AC Milan will face Ludogorets of Bulgaria.

The first legs will be played on Thursday, February 15, with the return matches a week later.

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