The first of the two all English finals this week, can Unai Emery continue his Europa League love affair or will Sarri grab some much needed silverware amidst rumours of him being replaced in the summer.
This one is incredibly difficult to call. Both sides have had to battle and display some terrific performances to get to this stage. Chelsea overcame a Frankfurt side who had emerged as real contenders for the trophy, it was a hard task but eventually some heroics from Kepa not only kept Chelsea in the game but also got them through to the final after a strong showing in the penalty shootout. Chelsea are now unbeaten in seven games in all competitions; a loss here however could cost Maurizio Sarri his job. Rumours surrounding his exit have been rife over the past couple of months and with growing talk surrounding the possibility of Frank Lampard taking the reigns it’s looking more and more like a make or break final for Chelsea on more than one level.
Arsenal come in to the final off the back of a disappointing league campaign where they failed to make it in to the top four. The overall feeling behind Unai Emery’s first season is relatively positive and it’ll definitely be deemed a success if The Gunners end up lifting the trophy. It was never going to be an easy transition after Arsene Wenger left the club, just see Manchester United after Sir Alex for an example of quite how tough that change can be. This is far from the finished article that Emery wants his team to be and I expect big movement from them this summer. He has a superb basis to build on with the exceptional strike force at his disposal, as well as the likes of Leno and Sokratis who have had solid first seasons in England. The emergence of Ainsley Maitland-Niles is another real shining light from the Spaniard’s first season in North London.
The bookies make Chelsea the favourites at 2.3 with Arsenal out at 3.0. Emery’s incredible record in this competition cannot be overlooked and I think Arsenal look like great value. It could be close and end up going the distance. I like Arsenal or draw at 1.53 or Arsenal to lift the cup at 2.2.
The biggest news regarding the line ups comes in the form of N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman has been ruled out due to a knee injury, horrible news for the player and for Chelsea themselves. Kante’s consistency and work rate is an asset to any side he plays in, he’s not been at his best this season as he’s been adapting to a new position after the arrival of Jorginho. However it’s still hard to see how he cane be directly replaced, Mateo Kovacic looks likely to start; The Croat has his qualities but Kante’s energy will be sorely missed especially with Arsenal looking to stretch Chelsea’s midfield using their wing backs.
Another big miss for Chelsea is Antonio Rudiger, the German centre half has been some-what of a revelation this season and Chelsea look a lot more assured in defence when he plays. Andreas Christensen will be his replacement, a player who I feel we’re yet to see the best of in a Chelsea shirt and he’ll have a big job on his hands against one of the hottest partnerships in Europe.
Sarri is several selection headaches as the side gear up for this game. Marcos Alonso will get the nod over Emerson at left back, the Spaniard is crucial to Chelsea’s game and he’ll need to be alert to the threat that Maitland-Niles poses. Willian and Pedro are in competition for a start at right wing, Willian has been excellent in The Europa League and I think he’ll pip Pedro to the start. Then its Giroud or Higuain to lead the line. Giroud is the competition’s leading marksman with 10 goals and I can see Sarri sticking with him up front, leaving Higuain waiting in the wings for his chance later on in the game.
Former Chelsea man Petr Cech will start in goal for Arsenal as he has throughout their European journey. Henrik Mkhitaryan has not travelled with the squad to Baku after the issues regarding his safety. Emery has to choose between Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi in support of his front two, he’d be bold not to go for the German with the athleticism of Iwobi likely to have more impact later in the game. Shkodran Mustafi has come under some serious fire this season and he may be nudged out of the side by Nacho Monreal for this one.
Arsenal will of course be very reliant on Aubameyang and Lacazette. They’ve been superb this season and have finally sparked up that real partnership that the fans had hope for, they’ve got a combined 13 goals between them in The Europa League. Aubameyang would have to be my pick for a goal at a price of 2.4 anytime.
The absence of Kante will hit Chelsea hard and Arsenal will be well aware of how detrimental his injury is to their opponents. Mesut Ozil may now be more likely to start as this opens up real space for him to operate; Jorginho is far from the most mobile of players and on his day Ozil can be an absolute game changer. I personally can’t see past Arsenal in this game. They’ve lost just one of the last six meeting between the two and have displayed some incredible character to get here. That performance in Valencia will go down in history if they lift the trophy. Without Rudiger and Kante I don’t see how Chelsea can contain Arsenal’s forwards. By no means will it be a walkover, Chelsea will be as competitive as ever and Arsenal have hardly been solid at the back. Both teams to score looks solid at 1.6.
Arsenal or draw @ 1.53
Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to score anytime @ 2.4
Both teams to score @ 1.6
Arsenal to lift the cup @ 2.2