Europa League specialist Unai Emery takes on Maurizio Sarri in a match that means everything to Arsenal’s season. A London derby played 2500 miles from its origin in the capital of Azerbaijan for an European trophy bearing all the extra incentives and sentiments; just adds that extra bit of desperation and feistiness to this Europa League final between Chelsea and Arsenal.

Like the logistics and circumstances surrounding this aren’t weird enough – Look away Chelsea fans- Arsenal are favourites against Chelsea in an European final. This is of course due to the blues’ ever-growing injury list coupled with Arsenal’s manager being a serial Europa league winner. Three successive wins is as straightforward a record as Celtic in the last three Scottish league seasons which is you know,amazing.

Unai Emery is looking to make it four Europa League wins in four finals. Image Credit: EPA

I trust Unai has made extra orders to his hair gel supplier to look good for the cameras on his fourth Europa League final; which he hopes would be his fourth triumph. No way to look better than that curly sleek-back remaining shiny in the rain of champagne and fluids of a victorious night.

Arsenal’s deadly frontline. Image Credit: EPA

The Spanish manager wants to deliver the Gunners’ first European trophy since 1994 and seal a return to the Champions League in his first season. Arsenal’s whole season depends on this game and Crucial to that would be Arsenal Player of the year Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang; who have 50 goals between them this season.

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With his Chelsea future unclear, Sarri is hoping to win his first trophy as a manager. Image Credit: Getty Images. 

Chelsea will hope to recreate the 2017 final, when several injured Manchester United players did their post-game trophy celebration limping heavily or on crutches. Sarri is denied by recent injuries to Antonio Rudiger, Callum Hudson-Odoi, Ruben Loftus-Cheek; who was having a dazzling end to the season and N’Golo Kanté who is a doubt. Getting seven players to fill the bench spots for a regular game was already hard enough for Chelsea; now they delay the summer holidays of a few extra 18-year-olds due to the Europa League final permitting 12 substitutes.

Oh and surely a final public appearance in Chelsea blue for Danny Drinkwater, he must be on a Chelsea Europa League list somewhere as ‘player’. Perhaps a cameo outing and a penalty shootout goal later in the night wouldn’t be a bad ‘Thank you Chelsea FC’ gift.

Eden Hazard leads the charge in the hunt for Sarri’s first career trophy. He would hope to add to his record of five goals in 15 against Arsenal, in what may be his final appearance in royal blue. Europa League joint top-scorer, Olivier Giroud is also looking to add to his 10 goals to become the undisputed top goalscorer.

Blue hopes rest on Eden Hazard’s able shoulders. Image Credit: Marc Atkinson/Getty Images.

 Chelsea would look to score past blues legend Petr Cech between the Arsenal posts in what is the final game of his glittering career. Big Pete is a premier league great, with a record of 202 clean sheets, four league titles, three league cups, five FA cups, an Europa League and that famous Champions League triumph of 2012, when his penalty-saving heroics made Chelsea the first London club to win the Champions League till at least June 1.

His 24 Premier league clean sheets from the 2004-05 season remains a record. Although reports of his agreement to a role at Chelsea this summer has drawn negative reactions from Arsenal fans, Cech is a consummate professional and wouldn’t be doing Chelsea any favours. One of the Premier League’s greatest-ever Goalkeepers should be celebrated in such a big game and this derby does have a farewell feel to it considering the location.

The choice of Baku for this showpiece event is all the more weird as the finalists play in the same city. The difficulty in securing flights to Baku means thousands of fans can’t attend the game; worse still, Arsenal’s Henrik Mkhitaryan cannot travel due to political tension between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan.

 UEFA has Armenian players registered in their competition, and such spectacle simply shouldn’t be hosted in countries with Political issues that might hinder players, staff or fans from participating. Although selected a couple of years ago; the whole logistics gaffe by UEFA should be non-existent in an association that considers all human factors before financial.

On the field however, a crunch clash awaits. The special London derby game that decides the fate of one team, to mark the retirement of a living legend, played in Azerbaijan, all for an European trophy. Football, bloody hell.

Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin
May 28, 2019
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Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin

Chief Editor of the Football Castle, Bolu Alabi-Hundeyin is a football junkie and writer of the beautiful game.

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