Paris: Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal secured top spot in Europa League Group H on Thursday despite slumping to a 1-0 defeat at struggling German side Cologne.
The Frenchman made 11 changes to the team that beat Tottenham Hotspur in last weekend’s north London derby, with starts handed to Olivier Giroud, Jack Wilshere and Danny Welbeck.
But the Gunners succumbed to a 62nd-minute penalty from Sehrou Guirassy after the French striker tumbled to ground inside the area under a challenge from Mathieu Debuchy.
Cologne, winless through 12 Bundesliga matches this season, climbed to second with one match to play, as a 0-0 draw between BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade in Belarus confirmed Arsenal’s status as group winners.
Mario Balotelli scored twice as Nice moved into the last 32 following a 3-1 victory over Zulte Waregem of Belgium, with Lazio dropping their first points in Group K after a 1-1 draw at home to Vitesse Arnhem.
Villarreal progressed to the knockout stages as Democratic Republic of Congo striker Cedric Bakambu netted a brace to seal a 3-2 victory over Astana in Kazakhstan.
Surprise Swedish side Ostersund — coached by Englishman Graham Potter — extended their run in Europe into the New Year with a 2-0 home win over Ukrainians Zorya Luhansk.
Veteran Spain striker Aritz Aduriz scored two penalties in Athletic Bilbao’s 3-2 win over Hertha Berlin to leave the Basque club with their fate in their own hands.
Seven-time European champions AC Milan will wrap up their spot in the knockout phase with victory over Austria Vienna at the San Siro later on Thursday.