By Neil Leverett

  • Arsenal and Chelsea meet in the final of the Europa League on Wednesday night in Baku, Azerbaijan
  • Premier League London become first two sides in over 47 years to make up all-English final in tournament’s history
  • Gunners can join their opponents in next season’s UEFA Champions League with win
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – In the first of an historic double header this week in European and Premier League football, Chelsea and Arsenal face off for Europa League glory in Baku.

 

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First of historic double-header

Over a fortnight removed from the conclusion of the Premier League season, four of English football’s top six sides do battle on the continent in an historic week for not only British, but European club football.
With Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur set to do battle in Madrid on Saturday night to be crowned European champions, first up on Wednesday evening sees the English the remains of the footballing capital descend on Azerbaijan, as London duo Chelsea and Arsenal meet in the final of the UEFA Europa League in the city’s Olympic Stadium.
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For this midweek’s combatants however, the showpiece final in eastern Europe will be only the second in the history of the Europa League – and indeed its’ former incarnation of the UEFA Cup – that two English teams will meet in the same final. The first occasion of which was back in 1972, when Spurs – rather ironically – beat Wolves 3-2 in the then two-legged tournament climax.
As the ‘City of Winds’ hosts this year’s edition of the final and after a turbulent campaign for both the north and south London sides, Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri will both look to sail their respective side into golden seas to run out the 2018/19 term.

 

London calling Baku

As two of the favourites to lift the Europa League trophy when the group stages began way back in September of last year, for the capital duo to meet in the final is still quite the feat of even the most optimistic of punters.

Both sides have had wended very different routes to the final.  For Chelsea, after negotiating a Group housing Videoton, BATE Borisov and current undefeated Greek champions PAOK, the knockout stages saw the Blues cruise past Malmo, thrash Dynamo Kyiv cumulatively 8-0, and put away a plucky Slavia Prague – who had eliminated holders Sevilla – to progress the semi-finals. Though Eintracht Frankfurt presented a severe test, Sarri’s men eventually prevailed on penalties earlier this month to reach the final.

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For the Gunners, four points were totted up against Sporting Clube de Portugal, before also clocking up the air miles home and away to Vorskla and Qarabag respectively in the group stages. Tricky games in the first two games of the knockout phase were passed against both BATE and Rennes, before being pulled out of the hat together with strong tournament favourites Napoli in the last eight. After 180 minutes of hard toil against a rather disappointing Italian side, a 3-0 aggregate scoreline was nonetheless impressive. A semi-final win against the fast-improving Copa Del Rey winner’s Valencia was also passed with relative flying colours, which brings us to Wednesday evening in Azerbaijan.

Though Chelsea already have one Europa League trophy to their name, after beating Benfica in 2013 – 12 months after being crowned European champions in Munich – their opponents have not won a European trophy in over 25 years of trying.

 

Gunners’ European woe

Since winning the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup back in 1994 in a typically nervy ’90s 1-0 Arsenal win over Parma in Copenhagen, the European cupboard has been bare for the Gunners – not for the want of trying.

Falling short of a penalty shout-out to retain their trophy a year later, Nayim‘s effort from 50-yards out denied George Graham‘s men a unique feat, a last-gasp goal in Paris, that still leaves causes of the north London club to come out in a cold sweat. In the UEFA Cup also, Arsenal did reach penalties in the 2000 final, only to lose to Galatasaray.

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The Parisian capital was also home to Arsenal’s most recent and painful defeat, as Gunners’ hearts were broken in the Champions League final 13 years ago, via a late Henrik Larson-inspired Barcelona show.

Arsenal have endured more than their fair share of woe on the continent – unlike their fellow London opponents here – so could it be third time lucky for Emery’s men?

 

Destiny beckons Emery

For the Spaniard in particular, Wednesday evening presents to chance for his own spot in sporting history. As the man who has already won the Europa League for three successive years in Andalusia with former club Sevilla, the 47-year-old Gunners steward knows how to get the job done.

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Emery was in charge of Los Rojiblancos in 2016 when his side beat a burgeoning Liverpool 3-1 in Basel, so he already has the psychological advantage over English opponents in the competition.

With the chance to win an unprecedented fourth trophy, Emery also has the chance to break Arsenal’s near three-decade long European silverware drought and finally bring their first moment of glory on the post-Wenger era. Not only that, he can deliver the club back to the top table of European football in qualifying for the Champions League, which will be vital to the club’s ambitions.

 

Prediction

Chelsea appear to be in utter chaos off the field ahead of the final. Eden Hazard is likely to playing his final game for the Blues ahead of a summer move to Real Madrid; N’Golo Kante is a major doubt to play; Sarri’s future in London is still shrouded in doubt whilst a transfer ban hangs over the club’s evolution going forward.

With Arsenal’s impressive run to the final, all arrows would point to a win for the red side of the capital. However, football does not work that way and up against it, Chelsea are most often their most potent. Some finals have been tight affairs in the past, but such are the issues in both side’s back lines, this could be a classic.

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With the form of both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Club Player of the Year Alexandre Lacazette however, the Gunners’ Arsenal will be hard to stop. It might take extra time however to separate the sides, and with kick off at 11pm local time, it could be a long night in Baku.

Chelsea 2-3 Arsenal (AET)

 

The 2019 UEFA Europa League final sees Chelsea and Arsenal meet at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan, kick off 8pm UK time

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