Frankfurt's Filip Kostic celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Europa League play-off, second leg soccer match between Eintracht Frankfurt and Strasbourg. Photo: Michael Probst/AP Photo

BERLIN  Last season's losing finalists Arsenal and semi-finalists Eintracht Frankfurt come together in the pick of the games as the 48-team Europa League group stage gets under way on Thursday.

Frankfurt, who went out on penalties in last season's last four to eventual winners Chelsea, greet the Arsenal in an encounter between two teams who have never met in a UEFA competition.

The Bundesliga club have come through three qualifying ties to return to the group stage, while Arsenal are playing their first European match since last season's 4-1 final defeat in Baku to Chelsea, who are now in the Champions League.

Arsenal have three Germans returning to home soil in Mesut Oezil, Bernd Leno and Shkodran Mustafi, while Frankfurt begin with a much-changed forward line.

Since last season's campaign, Sebastien Haller, Luka Jovic and Ante Rebic have left, with Dutch striker Bas Dost and Portugal's Andre Silva now leading the line.

Frankfurt are no longer outsiders, and with Arsenal can be considered favourites to survive Group F, which also features Standard Liege and Vitoria Guimaraes.

Frankfurt's Austrian coach Adi Huetter said: "Arsenal are of course the favourites, but we think we have a good chance."

And winger Danny da Costa said: "The difference is that we are no longer the clear underdogs. I think we have a certain international standing now after last season."

The Premier League also has another Europa League favourite in 2017 winners Manchester United, who begin their campaign at home to Kazakhstan's Astana in Group L, while newcomers Wolves greet Portugal's Braga in Group K.

Wolves striker Adama Traore believes the inside knowledge of manager Nuno Esperito Santo could benefit the English side. "Having Portuguese players in the squad and having a Portuguese coach can definitely help us," he said. 

"They come from there, they know how they play, they know the players, they know the league, and they have played teams like Braga many times before."

Joining Frankurt are fellow Bundesliga clubs Wolfsburg, who welcome Ukraine's Europa League debutants Olexandriye in Group I, and Borussia Moenchengladbach, who host another newcomer in Austrian side Wolfsberg in Group J.

Rome duo Lazio and Roma lead Italy's charge. Lazio have never met their Romanian hosts Cluj (Group E), while Roma new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan lifted the trophy with Manchester United in 2017 and hopes for a good start against Istanbul visitors Basaksehir (J).

Armenian midfield Mkhitaryan, who moved to Rome from Arsenal, missed the 2019 final due to tension between Armenia and final hosts Azerbaijan.

Sevilla, who won the Europa League three years in a row between 2014 and 2016, travel to Baku to face Qarabaq in Group A without Nolito who is injured and Lucas Ocampos who is suspended.

Fellow Spanish hopes Espanyol are without striker Facundo Ferreyra for the visit of Ferenvaros in Group H in a return to European competition 12 years after they lost the UEFA Cup final to Sevilla.

Getafe also return to European competition with a home encounter with Turkey's Trabzonspor in Group C, where Basel take on Russian side Krasnodar.

Elsewhere, Group G could be hard fought, with Porto meeting Young Boys, and Scottish side Rangers facing Feyenoord.

Glasgow neighbours Celtic meanwhile travel to Rennes in Group E while PSV Eindhoven are up against Sporting Lisbon in a meeting of the two fancied sides on Group D.

dpa