Chelsea and Arsenal are off to Baku in Azerbaijan for the Europa League final, presumably only because UEFA were unable to secure a sponsorship deal with the Moon instead.
Whatever next, a World Cup held in the desert?
Since the UEFA Cup dispensed with having two-legged finals, this tournament has seen two clubs from the same country face off in the final four times. On each occasion, the team which finished higher of the two in their domestic league won. If you think that trend will continue, get on Chelsea to lift the trophy at 4/6.
But the victor has been an average of 20 points ahead and never fewer than seven, whereas the Blues finished just two in front of the Gunners, as both teams crawled over the Premier League finish line. From when the Europa League quarter-finals started until the end of the season, these two sides took just 13 points from 11 league games between them.
So, while Arsenal are 6/5 outsiders to bring the trophy home, neither side has been sparkling recently, and Unai Emery’s team were the more impressive of the two in their respective semi-finals. Plus the Spaniard is the master of this competition, lining up with three wins alongside Giovanni Trappattoni at the top of the manager pile.
And the Gunners have been the top dogs in their recent cup clashes with Chelsea too. They won the 2017/18 League Cup semi-final (at home, having drawn at the Bridge), the 2017 FA Cup final and that years Community Shield – the big one if you’re a Manchester club – on penalties too.
Arsenal have the stronger goal threat, but also the weaker defence, which makes this really tough to call. But then favourites usually win cup finals, and my beloved nerdy numbers favour Chelsea more strongly than Paddy does.
When two teams from the same country clash in Champions League finals, there’s usually little in it. That hasn’t tended to happen in Europa League finals, though, with one side winning-to-nil in three of the four intra-national editions.
Matches between the Gunners and Blues tend to be entertaining too. The last decade has seen a 6-0 Chelsea win and 5-3 victory for Arsenal, for instance. While not that crazy, the last couple of years have seen a 3-2 home win at Stamford Bridge, and a 2-2 draw at the Emirates featuring an injury-time equaliser.
So I’m expecting both teams to score and several goals. After all, Arsenal topped the Premier League for games featuring at least four goals in 2018/19, which I’m sure more than makes up for actually finishing fifth.
Chelsea weren’t quite so goal crazy this term, but did concede the joint-most goals in the big six mini-league this season. I’m sure you can guess which red shirt wearing bunch of north Londonders they tied with too.
Former Gunner Olivier Giroud is the joint-top scorer in this year’s Europa League, with 10 goals. However, will a hat-trick against Dynamo Kiev and a brace against PAOK Thessaloniki be enough of a warm up for facing the Arsenal defence? Almost certainly.
Giroud only scored once in Chelsea’s four most recent Europa League matches, while Pedro bagged three. With two league goals against other teams in the big six in 2018/19, the Spaniard has also outscored the soon-to-be-former-Chelsea star Eden Hazard in big matches this season.
The Belgian is the 17/10 favourite in the any time scorer market, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he danced through the Arsenal defence in Baku. But with just two goals against the top six in the last two seasons, there may be better value elsewhere.
For Arsenal it’s a toss-up between Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who between them netted all seven of the Gunners’ goals in the semi-final. Both struggled a little for goals in games against top six sides this season – both got three, and two of Auba’s were penalties – but they are finishing 2018/19 like a pair of trains.
Aubameyang is the shorter-priced of the two, and with five goals in his last two games and nine in his last eight, it’s easy to see why. He might not fire Arsenal to glory, but he should get on the score sheet.