In the first of two all-English European finals, Arsenal and Chelsea clash for the Europa League soccer trophy 2019 at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan on Wednesday (3pm ET).
The all-London encounter will act as a warm up to Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur but will be no less keenly contested. In addition to the silverware on offer, there are other things at stake for both sides.
For Arsenal, it is Champions League qualification. After finishing fifth in the Premier League, a point shy of rivals Spurs in fourth and two behind Chelsea in third, the spot reserved for the winners of the Europa League represents their only remaining route into the primary European competition next year.
The bumper television deals negotiated by the Premier League mean that Arsenal remain one of the richest clubs in the world. They are the ninth richest in the latest Deloitte Football Money League, but they can ill afford a third consecutive campaign outside of the Champions League. In terms of both finances and prestige, it would hand a further advantage to their competitors towards the top of the table.
Luckily enough for Arsenal, their head coach Unai Emery is just the man to turn to if you want to win the Europa League. His Sevilla side lifted the trophy three times in a row between 2014 and 2016. Given that he subsequently coached Paris Saint-Germain through two Champions League campaigns, he has now gone almost four Europa League seasons without suffering an elimination.
His first season in North London has gone decently. Arsenal secured seven more points and finished a place higher than they did in their final campaign under long-serving manager Arsene Wenger, albeit with less convincing underlying statistics. They have impressed in seeing off some strong opposition to reach the Europa League final. After defeating Napoli in the quarter-final, they overcame Valencia 7-3 on aggregate in the final four.
The firepower provided by forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was key to that latter triumph, with the pair scoring all seven of the goals. If Arsenal can keep things relatively tight at the back and provide those two with opportunities to get at the Chelsea defence in transition, a repeat of their 2-0 win at the Emirates earlier this season is certainly a possibility.
The match could, though, go very differently. Arsenal struggled with defensive issues throughout the Premier League season. They conceded 12 more times than any of the four teams who finished ahead of them. While they were sometimes able to outscore opponents, they were involved in a few back-and-forth encounters that didn’t turn out in their favor. Those included 3-2 defeats away to Southampton, at home to Crystal Palace and away at Chelsea.
Maurizio Sarri’s side confirmed another appointment with the Gunners with a penalty shootout win over Eintracht Frankfurt following a 2-2 aggregate draw in their semi-final. Ruben Loftus-Cheek was a key contributor, scoring in the second leg after assisting Pedro’s goal in the first. He will miss Wednesday’s showpiece after suffering a serious achilles injury in Chelsea’s ill-advised friendly match here in the United States a couple of weeks back.
Antonio Rudiger and Callum Hudson-Odoi will also be unavailable, but Sarri expects to have midfielder N’Golo Kante back in action after nearly a month out with a hamstring injury for a match that may very well decide his future at the club. There are suggestions that Sarri will be moved aside if he doesn’t secure victory on Wednesday. If rumored interest from Juventus is true, he might just jump ship himself.
Chelsea also have a transfer ban hanging over them, so this might be the best chance they have at silverware for at least a couple of seasons. Their underlying statistics have been better than Arsenal’s throughout the campaign, and in Eden Hazard, they probably have the final’s outstanding talent. With a transfer to Real Madrid seemingly close on the horizon, he will be keen to lead his side to glory in his likely farewell after seven years at the club.
At the end of what is likely to be an entertaining final, Chelsea should be fancied to lift the Europa League trophy.
Our Betting Preview’s Arsenal vs Chelsea Europa League Final Predictions & Picks Verdict
- Bet on Chelsea to win @ best odds of +140 (7/5) with Intertops.