(PM) — This week an unprecedented four clubs from the same nation meet in the finals of European football’s two biggest club competitions.
Arsenal and Chelsea face-off in the disputed location of Baku, Azerbaijan, in the Europa League on Wednesday. Then Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur go head-to-head in the Champions League Final in Madrid on Saturday.
Below, we take a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the London sides’ Baku battle.
Bak-you gotta be kidding me
The choice of Baku to host this year’s Europa League has not gone down well. To start with, it’s extremely difficult to get to – just read this account of two Chelsea fans’ week-long expedition. It’s also very expensive to get to, with official travel options at around £1,000.
As a result, Arsenal – whose Emirates Stadium holds 60,260 – returned over one-third of its 6,000 ticket allocation. While Chelsea is expected to return even more tickets. This could see the farcical situation of a European final attended by fewer than 10,000 actual supporters.
Arsenal is particularly unhappy about the Europa League Final host venue. Their midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t play because of poor relations between his country Armenia and Azerbaijan – which dates back to 1917.
Fans can’t get there, or can’t afford to, and one player isn’t allowed to because of his birthplace. All of which contravenes UEFA’s Equal Game campaign promoting diversity, inclusion, and accessibility.
One thing we should expect from this match is goals. Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud is the Europa League’s top goalscorer this season, with ten goals. Arsenal’s main man Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is two behind him, having bagged a hat-trick in the semi-final. His team-mate Alexandre Lacazette’s five goals make him the fourth highest scorer in Europa League history with 15. Furthermore, Aubameyang and Lazazette have scored Arsenal’s last eight Europa League goals.
If the gossip pages are to be believed then the Europa League final will be Eden Hazard’s final game for Chelsea. The Belgian talisman is hotly tipped to join Real Madrid and hasn’t exactly dismissed speculation that he wants to leave. He’s been incredible since joining Chelsea in 2012, so don’t back against a brilliant match-winning performance.
One player we know will sign out is Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech, who retires after the match. The Czech racked up the sixth-most appearances in Chelsea history (494) during his time at Stamford Bridge. A fine performance to win the game for Arsenal would be a fitting end to the 37-year-old’s career.
Chelsea’s manager could also be departing, if those gossip pages are to be believed. Maurizio Sarri is understood to have agreed to a return to his homeland with Juventus after just one season in London. A Europa League win and fourth-placed league finish surely spell success in his debut season. But, because this is Chelsea, fans are unhappy and the media have been tough on him. And that, plus the lure of domination with Juve, may well take him back to Italy.
Emery’s Europa League excellence
Arsenal’s Spanish boss Unai Emery won the Europa League three consecutive times with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016. Doing so with Arsenal would make him the fourth manager to win the competition with two clubs.
Arsenal will hope his previous success will improve their record in European finals. They’ve lost four of their five finals, only winning the 1994 UEFA Cup. Europa League success over Chelsea would mean a successful season for Arsenal, despite a poor end to their league campaign.
In addition to Mkhitaryan, Arsenal will be without the injured Aaron Ramsey, who joins Juventus this summer. Perennially injured striker Danny Welbeck has also likely played his last Arsenal match. Defenders Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding are still injured, as is Barcelona loan failure Denis Suarez.
Chelsea suffered a huge blow with midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante ruled out through injury. They also lost Ruben Loftus-Cheek when he ruptured his Achilles playing in a post-season friendly match. Centre-back Antonio Rudiger and young winger Callum Hudson-Odoi are also out through injury.
Arsenal: Petr Cech; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Sokratis Papasthopoulos, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Sead Kolasinac; Lucas Torreira, Granit Xhaka; Mesut Ozil; Alexandre Lazacette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Chelsea: Kepa Arrizabalaga; Cesar Azpilicueta, Andreas Christensen, David Luiz, Marcos Alonso; Jorginho; Ross Barkley, Mateo Kovacic; Pedro, Eden Hazard; Olivier Giroud
This will be the 198th meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea. Arsenal has won 77, Chelsea has won 63, with 57 draws. However, it’s only their third in Europe, with Chelsea winning a 2003/04 Champions League quarter-final clash.
Arsenal v Chelsea will become the first fixture contested in FA Cup, League Cup, and European finals. It’s the first all-English Europa League final, but the third with teams from the same nation. That follows Porto v Braga in 2011 and Atletico Madrid v Athletic Bilbao in 2012.
Its previous iteration, the UEFA Cup, also saw one all-English final. That came in the first ever UEFA Cup when Tottenham Hotspur beat Wolverhampton Wanderers 3-2 on aggregate in 1972.
Technology to the rescue
This will be the first Europa League final to use the Video Assistant Referee technology system. It will be used to review major decisions, such as penalties, red cards, and goals.
A big prize
Big in every sense of the word. The Europa League trophy is UEFA’s largest, it weighs 15 kilograms and, to the winning captain’s dismay, has no handles. Probably, more importantly, the winner also qualifies for next season’s Champions League group stages.
All eyes on Baku
The first-ever Europa League final to be contested between two English sides kicks off at 21:00 CET on Wednesday. That’s 16:00 ET – and 23:00 local time! A list of where to watch the match in your country is here.