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Europa League: Cologne draw Arsenal, Hertha get Bilbao

Cologne have drawn Arsenal in their first Europa League group stage, while Hertha Berlin are to meet 2012 finalists Athletic Bilbao. Hoffenheim are also making their debut in the tournament.

Cologne, whose last experience in European competition came in the 1997 Intertoto Cup, were paired with Arsenal in Group H in Friday's Europa League group stage draw in Monaco.

In Arsenal, Cologne will be up against a team that had qualified for the Champions League for 17-straight years, before a fifth-place finish the Premier League last season meant that Arsene Wenger's side had to settle for the Europa League. Arsenal also feature three members of Germany's 2014 World Cup winning team; Mesut Özil, Shkodran Mustafi and Per Mertesacker. 

"A great draw," Cologne president Werner Spinner told German broadcaster Sky after the draw was made. "It was just a great day today."

Lukas Podolski, who came up through Cologne's youth program before graduating to the Bundesliga team and later going on to play for Arsenal, tweeted: "Awesome! In my opinion, it is the best draw!"

Read more: How will Germany's teams fare in Europe this season?

Belarusian club BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade are the other two teams in Group H.

Meanwhile, Hertha Berlin, who last played in the Europa League in the 2008-09, are to face Athletic Bilbao in Group J. Bilbao reached the 2012 Europa League final, but have failed to advance past the Round of 32 ever since. Zorya Luhansk of Ukraine and Ostersund of Sweden are also in the group.

"We are happy that we are back. The travel could have been a little easier," said Hertha Berlin's manager, Michael Preetz, after the draw. "We have waited a long time to return to the European stage."

Hoffenheim travel east twice

In their first-ever European group stage, Hoffenheim, like Hertha, will face a couple of trips east - to play Bulgarian side Ludogorets and Istanbul-based club Basaksehir. Portuguese club Braga is also in their group.

"We are satisfied with what we have got," Hansi Flick, Hoffenheim's managing director, told Sky. "There are two teams that have played in the Champions League. We accept the challenge and are excited for the games."

Hoffenheim missed out on the Champions League after losing to Liverpool in a qualification playoff.

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