Arsenal keep outdoing themselves. With six Premier League games remaining and by far the easiest run-in of any of the top four contenders, Arsenal conspired to lose three games on the bounce and cast their place in the top four into serious doubt.
Their impressive Europa League performances against Napoli aside, the month of April has been an utter catastrophe for the Gunners. Lacklustre performances against Everton and Watford contributed to a run of four defeats in five league games in which they were lucky to come away with a win of any sort against Javi Gracia’s side.
Having said that, Europa League performances – particularly at home – have been a redeeming factor for Arsenal this season. Comebacks against BATE Borisov and Rennes at the Emirates bailed Arsenal out in the earlier knockout rounds, while an accomplished performance at home to Napoli set them up for a more comfortable away leg than they could have expected.
The Europa League is Arsenal’s best avenue into the Champions League next season and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be right at it on Thursday night.
However, Valencia represent difficult opposition and have been clinical in the knockout stages of the Europa League, winning five and drawing one of their six games. Like Arsenal, Valencia are more likely to achieve Champions League football through the backdoor of the Europa League than through the league.
Three points, and two places, is a lot to make up in just three games, especially with the distraction of the Europa League semi-finals and Copa Del Rey final.
It promises to be an extremely tight affair between two clubs who desperately need to win the competition to bolster their aspirations for next season and we’re backing Arsenal, despite their poor recent form, to gain a slender advantage.
Chelsea’s European performances have been at complete odds with their domestic ones. While they have been underwhelming at best in the Premier League, they have been hugely impressive in Europe’s secondary competition. They are the only team left in any European semi-final to have won all of their knockout games and they have done so with style for the most part.
A 5-0 win in Kiev was the most eye-catching result of Chelsea’s run, especially considering they were already 3-0 up and almost assured of a place in the next round. The Blues have been free-scoring in Europe and have scored 18 goals in their six knockout games, at a rate of three goals a game.
For knockout football, that is quite incredible.
Eintracht Frankfurt have endured a much rockier road to the semi-finals but have been no less impressive. After topping their group with six wins out of six, the Germans dumped Shakhtar Donetsk out with an impressive 6-3 aggregate win.
Since then, they have had to be resilient. A hard-fought 1-0 win against Inter Milan signalled the Germans’ intentions, and they showed plenty of heart in coming from behind against Benfica in the quarter finals to progress on away goals.
Fourth in the Bundesliga, Eintracht Frankfurt are no mugs and will be a stern test of Chelsea’s ambitions. That said, such has been the impressive nature of Chelsea’s European displays this season that we think they’ll sneak over the line.
Pick: Chelsea to win – 6/4