It’s a tale of two fortunes in the UEFA Europa League final, where Chelsea boss, Maurizio Sarri, will be looking for his first piece of silverware as a coach, while this is Arsenal’s final chance of booking a spot in next season’s UEFA Champions League – in their reins is Unai Emery, a man who has lifted this trophy in the last three times that he has participated in it. The Blues head into the tie as overwhelming favourites after wrapping up third spot in the English Premier League, while they are also no strangers to a big European night, having lifted the UEFA Champions League and Europa League consecutively back in 2012 and 2013.
To Win (90 mins)
To Lift Cup
May 29 couldn’t come sooner as the Blues will be looking to put some glitz and glamour on what has been somewhat of a disappointing campaign, despite finishing third in their domestic league, which has evidently booked them a place in next season’s UEFA Champions League.
Many pundits and fans alike felt that Chelsea cemented a spot in the top four and met expectation solely because of the downfall of their closest rivals – much like the time Jose Mourinho finished second as Manchester United boss.
Now, with more pressure being on their opponents, this is the perfect way to silence all critics and bow out in style and live up to their title as being the best team in London this season. In the Europa League, Sarri’s men are the only team that have kept their unbeaten run intact, despite not making the competition their top priority from the start of the campaign.
Now Sarri has a decision to make. Does he revert back to the tried and tested players? Or does the Italian mentor continue to stick with the players who got him to the final, most notably former Arsenal forward, Olivier Giroud, who has netted 10 times in 13 appearances in the Europa League.
Chelsea are already injury-struck heading into the final, with Antonio Rudiger and Ruben Loftus-Cheek both ruled out of the clash, while N’Golo Kante is facing a late fitness test to be available. Three players who are all the best in their positions, and in such crucial positions.
Eden Hazard, who looks set to leave the Blues in the off-season, will likely play his final game for the club as the Belgian hopes to give Chelsea the perfect parting gift. He won the Europa League in his first season in London, could he do it in his final campaign?
The Gunners will be gearing up for their final battle of the season, and quite clearly, its their most important clash which will indicate whether their campaign has been a great one, or, a dismal one. It’s make or break.
On paper, it looks awfully wrong, with many questioning how has the club really improved since the days of Arsene Wenger. But, if you unfold the paper and look deeper into perspective, Unai Emery has done a lot in one season, considering the changes he had to make to a club being coached one way for 23 years, while he also closed the gap on his top four rivals after Arsenal were closer to seventh spot than the top five. The Gunners also showed great fight and mettle in the big games against their closest rivals, going unbeaten in the league against Manchester United and Tottenham, while they also looked much better over two legs against Chelsea.
Despite that record, its in this competition where Emery’s men have impressed the most, overturning a 3-1 deficit against Rennes, before beating Napoli and Valencia both home and away in the latter stages.
Emery has proven to be a serial winner, claiming at least one trophy in each of his last five seasons, which include three UEFA Europa League titles. In the domestic league, he clearly put all his eggs into this basket, which saw Arsenal drop out of the top four, dropping points against the lesser teams in the division.
Emery’s side are very dangerous on their day, but its easy to point out where their threat lies. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are the heavy-hitters for Arsenal, with Aubameyang winning the golden boot in England, scoring 30+ goals across all competitions, while Lacazette has scored against just about any big team he has squared up with. If they’re at their majestic best, the tie could swing well in the favour of Arsenal.
Also, with Chelsea legend, Petr Cech, set to retire after this encounter, he’ll be looking to end his remarkable journey with a trophy against his former employers.
Kepa; Azpilicueta, Christensen, Luiz, Alonso; Kovacic, Jorginho, Barkley; Willian, Giroud, Hazard.
Cech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil; Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Prediction: Arsenal (2/1)
Although it’s a final and the permutations are 50-50, with Champions League football on the line, Arsenal could prove to be the team that want it more. In their ranks is a coach who has been here and done it time and time again, being the competition’s most successful manager in the history of the tournament, winning the Europa League three times. Chelsea have also been dealt with key injuries in crucial positions, which has dampened their last chance of silverware for the season.
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