The Europa League final takes place on Wednesday night. We’ve compiled this preview with all the information you’ll need ahead of the big game.
Date and time: 29/05 20:00
Where to watch: The match is being broadcast on BT Sports 2, with coverage starting at 18:30. Non-subscribers can still watch the match for free by downloading the BT Sports app or watching on the BT Sports channel on YouTube.
The story: In the first of this week’s two all-English European finals, Chelsea and Arsenal will meet at the 68,700 Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The stadium choice has been a continued source of controversy, owing to the financial and logistical difficulties that both sets of fans have met when organising travel details. As a result, each club have only sold a few thousand tickets, which will presmably lead to a sterile atmosphere on the night.
To complicate matters further, the location has caused a diplomatic row around Arsenal’s Armenian forward Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Armenia and Azerbaijan have been embroiled in a territorial conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh mountains since 1988 and Armenian citizens are not permitted in the country. Though Azerbaijan stated that they would treat Mkhitaryan as an exception, he has opted to stay away.
The circumstances have overshadowed a match in which a lot is on the line. Arsenal, in particular, will be desperate to win as the match represents a route into the Champions League next season. A victory would also directly influence their transfer policy as, not only is the Champions a greater lure for players, but apparently qualification would see Arsenal’s transfer budget increase from £40 million to £100 million.
Neither issue will affect Chelsea though. The Blues have already qualified for the Champions League after a respectable third place finish in the league and their transfer plans may be non-existent owing to a transfer ban.
It has been an odd debut season for Maurizio Sarri. Chelsea fans have never really taken to the controversial Italian who has constantly seemed on the brink of the sack, despite finishing third and reaching the finals of both the League Cup and the Europa League.
There are whispers that the match could be his last, with Derby boss Frank Lampard linked with a sensational Stamford Bridge return.
What will be of greater concern to Chelsea fans is that it could also be the last time that Eden Hazard plays for the club. Zinedine Zidane has made the Belgian his number one transfer target this summer and, with just a year left on his contract, it seems as though Hazard’s annual link to Real Madrid could finally come to fruition.
Form: After a dreadful run in April, in which Arsenal lost consecutively to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester and conceded three goals in each match, they turned around their form when it mattered.
Comprehensive victories over Valencia (twice) and Burnley as well as a draw with Brighton meant that the Gunners finished the season four matches unbeaten.
Chelsea finished the season with a run of seven matches without defeat. However, they drew five of their final six including both legs of the semi-final against an Eintracht Frankfurt side who were on a wretched run of form.
Head to head: Arsenal have enjoyed the upper hand in recent meetings. In fact, Chelsea have won just won of their last eight encounters dating back to the 27th May 2017. Arsenal have won four of those including the most recent, a 2-0 victory at the Emirates in January.
Team news: Both sides are missing key players. As well as the absent Mkhitaryan, Arsenal are without Aaron Ramsey, who has played his last game for the club, in addition to Denis Suarez, Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding. There have been calls
Chelsea also have injury concerns though. N’Golo Kante is a doubt, having suffered a knee injury in Chelsea’s friendly match in Boston at the weekend. The cursed trip also saw Ruben Loftus-Cheek rupture his Achilles tendon. He will join Callum Hudon-Odoi on the long term injury list. Antonio Rudiger is also sidelined.
What Sarri has said: “If the situation is like this I want to go immediately. Ten months of work and I have to play everything in 90 minutes, it’s not right. Either you’re happy about my work or you’re not happy. My future is on Wednesday I think. I need to think only to the final at this moment.”
What Emery has said: “We know Chelsea well, a team with quality and a high physical level. Eden Hazard is a plyer of moment but decisive moments. It is what we have to avoid. Chelsea is capable of winning thanks to him and that ability I have only seen in Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar or Salah. For me he is in the quintet of the best in the world.”
Verdict: Chelsea may have finished higher in the league but it is Arsenal who will arrive as the happier group. The usual political problems that undermine every Chelsea manager have struck again and Sarri is fighting for his future despite a strong debut season.
If the Italian does leave, he looks certain to be joined by Hazard who is arguably the best player in the league. With a transfer ban looming, Chelsea may not be able to replace him. The Blues are a mess and, although things aren’t completely rosy at the Emirates, Arsenal are currently the more stable club by a distance.
The discontent at Chelsea simply has to play a part and, when you also factor in the motivational factors that could help Arsenal, I think the Gunners are the bet.