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UEFA Europa League Final – Arsenel v/s Chelsea: Match Preview
- Updated: May 22, 2019
In a European final masked in controversy – namely the battle of UEFA against the fans – Arsenal and Chelsea travel to Baku in Azerbaijan to contest the first of 2 European finals of the 2018/19 season.
After a statement earlier today confirmed the absence of Arsenal star Henrikh Mkhitaryan, owing to concerns over his safety, arising of conflict between Mkhitaryan’s nation, Armenia, and the host nation of Azerbaijan.
This is further exacerbated by the fact that in a stadium with a capacity of over 68,000 seats, a meagre 6,000 have been allotted to both participant clubs each. With the high cost of attendance and travel, a vastly empty stadium for the night is a worrying, but growing possibility.
Needless to say, the footballing world is not happy.
However, 2 men who will be very happy at the opportunity would be Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri. Both men were appointed as managers of their respective clubs this season, and have done a commendable job in securing a place in the final, given the lack of investment funds afforded to them in the summer. Alarmingly, Chelsea’s board is rumoured to be crestfallen with the progress of the side under Sarri, and rumour is rife that the Italian manager may be shown the exit door a mere season in. A win in the final may prove to be the only way he can keep his job.
Road to the final:
With the quality of Arsenal and Chelsea, the first few stages of the Europa League proved to be very smooth sailing. Both clubs went through the group stage undefeated, accumulating 16 out of a possible 18 points.
A 3-1 loss to Rennes had Arsenal’s Europa league hopes dangling in the round of 16, but 2 early goals in the return leg ensured Arsenal had turned around the deficit, with a late Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang goal enough to secure the tie on aggregate. Chelsea meanwhile annihilated Dyano Kiev in the same round, putting 3 past them at home, and 5 past them away, without conceding a sinle goal in return.
3 unanswered goals over 2 legs in the quarter final against Napoli ensured that Emery’s side cruised past Sarri’s former club. Meanwhile, Sarri’s current club had a comfortable away leg against Slavia Praha (Winning 0-1), but the home leg brought a small shock with it, for Slavia scored twice early in the second half to put the game at a 5-3 aggregate, with the away goals ruling in their favour. Unfortunately for Slavia, the comeback couldn’t quite materialise fully, and they went out in the quarters to allow Chelsea to set up a clash with Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-final.
The semi-finals saw Arsenal clash with Spanish side Valencia (who finished 4th in La Liga Santander). 7 goals from the strike partnership of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette gunned Valencia down, and saw Arsenal beat them both home and away, outclassing them by a 7-3 aggregate scoreline. Chelsea’s victory on the other hand, wasn’t as seamless. 1-1 draws in Germany and England saw the tie head to penalties. Kepa Arrizabalaga really stepped up his game when the game headed to the shoot-out, and saved 2 on the bounce when his side looked down and out, putting to bed his nightmares from the Carabao Cup shootout against Manchester City, and setting up a bout with Arsenal in Baku.
Predicted Starting XIs:
Arsenal (3-4-1-2): Cech; Koscielny, Sokratis, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torriera, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil; Aubameyang, Lacazette
Chelsea (4-3-3): Kepa; Azpilicueta, Luiz, Christensen, Alonso; Kante, Jorginho, Barkley; Pedro, Higuain, Hazard
Game Deciding Points:
- Marcos Alonso’s positioning
Marcos Alonso has received plenty of criticism from fans and pundits alike, which led to Sarri dropping the left back in favour of youngster Emerson. However, I expect Alonso to start the game, but his positioning will be of paramount importance against Arsenal’s back 3. He will be required in the final third to break down the defence, but overcommitting could be suicidal on the counter attack.
- Kante v/s Ozil
N’Golo Kante will be tasked with keeping Mesut Ozil quiet on the night. Ozil does not track back, but Kante plays as a box-to-box midfielder, making it quite an interesting positional battle. Although Ozil has been lacklustre this season, his quality is undeniable, and with Lacazette and Aubameyang to feed, an unmarked Ozil would be catastrophic for Chelsea.
A very exciting prospect awaits on 29th May, 2019, as the first European trophy winner, and indeed the first participant of the UEFA Super Cup will become known. For Arsenal, the extra incentive of UEFA Champions League qualification will be matched by Maurizio Sarri’s incentive to retain his job as Chelsea manager. Set amidst a rather unusual location, with a feeling of desolation likely, only a win will provide much-needed solace for both clubs.