Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the Europa League final on Wednesday night in Baku, kicking off at 11:00pm local time, and 8:00pm back in the UK. It’ll be the first time ever two English teams would pit themselves against each other in this competition’s final, with Arsenal looking to win their first European major trophy, and Chelsea looking to win this cup for the 2nd time in their history.
Out of the two teams, this game as greater significance for Arsenal who have their Champions League hopes on the line. After finishing 5th in the Premier League, Arsenal’s last chance saloon of qualifying for the Champions League now depends on their Europa League success. There is a thin line between a successful first season as the Arsenal manager for Unai Emery, or a season which has failed to materialise as the majority of Arsenal fan’s may have hoped.
Arsenal have won their last two matches coming into this final, winning 4-2 in the semi-final at Valencia, followed by a rare away day victory in the Premier League at Burnley. Prior to that, Arsenal had been in shocking form, which saw them in 3rd, but lose so many points, drop out of those Champions League places. On reflection, Arsenal are a side in transition, and if Unai Emery was to get this team back in Europe’s prime competition, he’ll have done a sublime job. Let’s not forget, despite their domestic success, Arsenal are not a team who have prevailed a lot in Europe, having not won either the Europa League or Champions League equivalent in their history. Can Unai Emery, winner of this trophy three times in a row with Sevilla, win a historic trophy for Arsenal?
On the road to Baku, Arsenal didn’t have things all their own way, but did get off to a resounding start in the group stage. Grouped with Sporting Lisbon, Qarabag and Vorksla Poltava, they cruised through to the knockout stages, having only dropped points at home to a talented Sporting side. Arsenal’s troubling away form didn’t go unnoticed in the knockout matches, as both BATE Borisov and Rennes won their respective home legs. Thankfully for the Gunners, they managed to overturn by away deficits at home, as they progressed to the quarter finals.
It was at this stage, they were drawn with other favourites Napoli, in what was expected to be a tough encounter. However, Arsenal performed their best two games of the competition this season, winning 2-0 at home, and 1-0 away, as they sailed through. In the semi-finals, Unai Emery’s Arsenal faced off against Valencia, and in a free-scoring couple of legs, Arsenal won 7-3 on aggregate, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring 4 goals in the process.
Arsenal do have Aaaron Ramsey injured, who will be leaving the club this season, and will be a big loss to the side. Petr Cech is also leaving Arsenal before moving back to Chelsea in an off-field role, so it will be a memorable final game of his career.
Mauricio Sarri’s first season has had mixed reactions from all fans involved in football. Due to the nature of how Chelsea is run, it’s no surprise that there has been talk of him being sacked in the summer. The likes of Frank Lampard and Massimiliano Allegri could be on their list to replace Mauricio Sarri, but there is a strong case for the Italian to stay too. They finished 3rd in the Premier League, ahead of Arsenal, Tottenham and Manchester United.
They were a penalty shoot-out away from winning silverware in the Carabao Cup. Ultimately, they are also in the Europa League final, and are 90 minutes away from winning their 3rd European trophy in seven years. If they were to win, how can Chelsea sack the manager who has improved the team’s performance significantly in one year? The sceptics tend to say Sarri has made Chelsea toothless in attack, despite being far more comfortable in possession, and his stubbornness is a trait many Chelsea fans are not on board with. Rafa Benitez was in charge of Chelsea for less than a season, and he managed to secure a top four spot as well as a Europa League winners medal – it didn’t keep him from losing his job though. Will history repeat itself six years on?
Chelsea remain unbeaten in their Europa League run, and certainly cruised through to the semi-final stage at least. In the group stage, they were up against PAOK, BATE Borisov and MOL Vidi. Just like Arsenal, they managed to obtain 16 points from a possible 18, without really having to go into 2nd gear. In the knockout stages, Chelsea won every game, home and away from the round of 32, to the semi-finals, beating Malmo, Dynamo Kiev and Slavia Prague. They were arguably handed an easier route than Arsenal, but still had to be ruthless with their opponents. Chelsea’s toughest fixture on route to Baku was their semi-final tie with Frankfurt, as they drew both games 1-1. This meant that it had to be decided on penalties, which Chelsea kept their cool and squeezed through.
Olivier Giroud is Chelsea’s top scorer in this competition, despite not being a firm regular when playing in the Premier League. He is expected to start in this final against his former team. Elsewhere, young English superstars Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Callum Hudson-Odoi will both miss the final with injures. Eden Hazard, always the key player for Chelsea, looks set to play his final game for the club, with an imminent move to Real Madrid on the cards. Can he win them another trophy for his final match?
Head to Head
In overall history, Arsenal have the edge having won 77 matches to Chelsea’s 63 successes. The sides have also drawn to each other 57 times. Despite Chelsea having an incomparable record over Arsenal between 2005 and 2015, the tide has started to shift again in recent seasons. In the last 10 meetings between the sides, Chelsea have only been victorious once, with Arsenal winning on five separate occasions. The sides have met twice already this season, with one win apiece. Back in August, Chelsea beat Arsenal 3-2 at Stamford Bridge in an early season encounter. The sides met again in January, and Arsenal this time reigned supreme with a 2-0 victory at home, in what turned out to be a relatively comfortable win for the Gunners.
Even though this is the first time that these two teams have played in a European Cup final, they have played a few finals together in domestic competitions. In 2002, they met in the FA Cup final, which Arsenal won 2-0 to clinch a double. Chelsea finally got their revenge 5 years later though, as they came from 1-0 down to win 2-1 in the League Cup final – Didier Drogba with the goals. Their 3rd and most recent final was in 2017 in the FA Cup, as Chelsea manager Antonio Conte looked to secure a double in his first season in charge. It wasn’t to be though, as Arsene Wenger won his final trophy for Arsenal, winning 2-1 with goals from Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey. Two of their finals were in Cardiff, one was in Wembley – but who will win in Baku?
Predictions and Betting Tips
Chelsea are slight favourites to win at 13/10, with Arsenal priced at 21/10. For the sides to draw, which would mean the game would go into extra time, that is priced at 23/10. If you want to bet on a team to win outright the competition, then Chelsea are at 4/6, with Arsenal at 11/10.
There are many stories to be written here, and sentimental thoughts may sway your decision on who to bet on. For example, Petr Cech playing his last ever game shouldn’t end in defeat, right? But what about Eden Hazard for Chelsea, surely he’ll win a trophy in what could be his final game? Forgetting all that, I am going to go with my gut, and pick Arsenal to win – they just need it more! I am going to go all out, and bet on them to win after extra time at 12/1.
For the score line in 90 minutes, I am going to opt for a 1-1 draw at 5/1.