Two arch-rivals, separated by 10 miles or roughly 40 minutes by London Underground, have traveled nearly 3,000 miles to Baku, Azerbaijan, to contest for the Europa League final.
Despite the importance of the game, the fans have rebelled against UEFA over their poor choice for the venue resulting in both clubs failing to fill the 6,000 allocated seats each in a 60,000-seat stadium.
Azerbaijan, technically, is still at war with its neighbor Armenia. The Arsenal midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who is also Armenian, has elected not to make the trip due to security concerns.
The final will be played in Baku Olympic Stadium, which is in Azerbaijan. The game kicks off at 12am, Pakistan Standard Time (PST).
The Road to Baku
Arsenal were placed in the Group E alongside Sporting, Vorskla Poltava and Qarabag. The Unai Emery men finished strong in the group-stages and picked up 16 points and losing only one game.
However, they have had a tougher run in the knockout stage as the Gunners had to come back from behind to overcome BATE and Rennes before finally hitting their stride to knock out Napoli in an impressive manner.
Similar to Arsenal, Chelsea also finished top of their group with 5 wins and 16 points. The Group L, alongside Chelsea, included FC BATE, Vidi FC and PAOK FC.
Chelsea registered victories in all of their games after the group-stage up until the semifinals where they faced Eintracht Frankfurt, who held the Blues to a draw in both games. The penalty-kicks, however, saw Chelsea qualify for the final.
Injuries & Expected Line-up
The former Chelsea legend Petr Cech, started every game for Arsenal in the knockout stage and is set to retire after Wednesday night. Two factors, however, play a huge role in his selection. 1) Bernd Leno has been Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper since October. 2) Following Cech’s retirement, he is set to join Chelsea again but this time in a front office role.
For Arsenal, Aaron Ramsey is still out due to a hamstring injury whereas other injured candidates include Hector Bellerin, Konstantinos Mavropanos and Rob Holding.
Definite misses for Chelsea include Antonio Rudiger and Callum Hudson-Odoi. Ngolo Kante has recovered in time from a muscular injury but Sarri claims that he is still ’50-50′ for the match due to fitness concerns. It is worth mentioning that Ruben Loftus-Cheek is also going to miss out due to Achilles tendon injury just as he was finding his feet in the first time.
Cech, Kolasinac, Monreal, Koscielny, Sokratis, Torreira, Xhaka, Maitland-Niles, Ozil, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Kepa, Alonso, Luiz, Christensen, Azpilicueta, Jorginho, Kovacic, Barkley, Hazard, Pedro, Giroud.
VAR is Back
The Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has not been a part of Europa League till date but it will be up and running in the final.
The all-Italian crew of Referee Gianluca Rocchi, Assistant Referees Filippo Meli and Lorenzo Manganelli, and 4th official Daniele Orsato will be in charge.
The VAR crew is headed up by Massimiliano Irrati, also from Italy.
- Arsenal against Chelsea will be the second all-English UEFA Cup/Europa League final in history, after Tottenham against Wolves in the UEFA Cup final in 1972.
- This is the 198th meeting in all competitions between Arsenal and Chelsea but only the third in European competition – they met in the 2003-04 Champions League quarter-final, with the Blues progressing 3-2 on aggregate.
- Arsenal vs Chelsea will be the first fixture to played in the FA Cup final, League Cup final and a major European final.
- This will be both Arsenal and Chelsea’s sixth major European finals – only Man Utd (7) and Liverpool (14 – including 2019 Champions League) have reached more among English clubs.
- This final will be third time two teams from the same nation have faced in the Europa League final, after Porto v Braga in 2011 and Atletico Madrid v Athletic Club in 2012.
- Both Arsenal and Chelsea have won 11 Europa League games this season – only three teams have ever won more major European games in a single season (excluding qualifiers); Real Madrid in 2001-02 (12), Porto in 2010-11 (12) and Atletico Madrid in 2011-12 (13).
- Azerbaijan will be the 24th different country to host a major European final and the third consecutive year a country will host a major final for the first time – Wales for the 2016-17 Champions League final and Ukraine for the 2017-18 Champions League final.
- Arsenal have lost four of their five major European finals, with their only victory coming in the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup against Parma; they’ve lost each of their last three, losing in the 1995 Cup Winners’ Cup, 2000 UEFA Cup and 2006 Champions League finals.
- In all European competition, Arsenal have faced opponents from 27 different nations and beaten teams from 26 of those countries, with the only exception being against English clubs.
- Arsenal manager Unai Emery has won the Europa League more often than any other manager, winning it three times in 2014, 2015 and 2016 with Sevilla.
- Arsenal’s Unai Emery could become only the fourth manager to win the UEFA/Europa League with two different teams, after Giovanni Trapattoni (Juventus & Inter Milan), Jose Mourinho (Porto & Man Utd) and Rafael Benitez (Valencia & Chelsea).
- If Arsenal win this match, only Giovanni Trapattoni (5) will have won more major European finals than Unai Emery (4), while only three other managers would have won as many as four with a 100% record in each final – Nereo Rocco, Bob Paisley and Jose Mourinho.
- Arsenal’s last eight Europa League goals have been scored by either Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (4) or Alexandre Lacazette (4).
- Chelsea have won four of their five major European finals (2x Cup Winners’ Cup/1x Champions League/1x Europa League). Among English teams, only Man Utd (5) and Liverpool (8) have won more major European finals.
- Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud has scored 10 Europa League goals this season, the most by a Blues player in a single European season (excluding qualifiers) and the joint-most by a French player in major European competition in a season – Nestor Combin in the 1963-64 Cup Winners’ Cup and Just Fontaine in the 1958-59 European Cup also scored 10.
- Chelsea’s Maurizio Sarri is the first Italian to manage in a UEFA Cup/Europa League final since Alberto Malesani in 1999, who won the trophy with Parma that year.
- The two previous Italians to manage an English club in a major European final have managed Chelsea to victory – Gianluca Vialli in the 1998 Cup Winners’ Cup final and Roberto Di Matteo in the 2012 Champions League final.