You know … at different stages during the course of this season a fixture was labelled “the most important game of the season”, but that came and went as there was always the next one. Tonight though, for Arsenal: THIS IS IT. Some may even say the most important game of the Emirates era.
Good day one and all.
We are in Azerbaijan this evening and it is a London derby with Arsenal and Chelsea battling it out to be crowned 2018/19 Europa League Champions at Baku’s Olympic Stadium.
Leading up to this match most of the talking points focused on off-field issues like ticket allocation, too long a trek to Baku and Henrikh Mhkitaryan missing out due to political reasons, but for Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri it’s about winning a continental trophy in their first season as head coaches of the respective football clubs. Sarri by no means had it easy at the Blues and for his side winning the cup will mean ending what has been a fickle season, on a high – having already secured qualification for next season’s Champions League (CL). However, for the Gunners, there’s a sense they’ve got a bit more riding on it than just a first European trophy in 25 years, certainly more than banter and/or online bragging rights for their faithful fans.
In recent years Arsenal has lost ground on our traditional top-six rivals, and with both Liverpool and Tottenham guaranteed a massive pay day there’s a real concern that we could fall behind even further if missing out on the CL riches for a third consecutive season. Just recently Vinai and Sanllehi gave an interview where they said the club are committed to stick by its self-sustaining model in the foreseeable future, so any extra revenue we can get is needed to enhance our plans this coming summer.
In a nutshell: for Arsenal this is about one step closer to the promised land. No pressure then.
Seemingly, when you want to win a Europa League Cup, having the competition’s most decorated coach in the dugout is nothing to scoff at. Emery won the title an unprecedented three times in a row during his time at Sevilla and tonight will see him, following a not spectacular yet steady initial league campaign, back in familiar surroundings and no doubt with his tail up. Arsenal’s path to the finals came via an unbeaten run through the group stages with five wins and a draw. First leg hiccups against both BATE and Rennes were followed up by five knockout wins with relative ease.
Chelsea had a similar path with the exact same record in their group fixtures, however, whereas we lost two of our knockout games, they drew two. Both against Eintracht Frankfurt in the semi-finals, a tie they ultimately won via a penalty shootout at Stamford Bridge.
Emery will be without Aaron Ramsey tonight but Danny Welbeck could see one final return on the substitutes’ bench. Players he will be looking at as match winners will be Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who both have been exceptional this season. Sarri has Loftus-Cheek, Rudiger, Hudson-Odoi and possibly Kante ruled out. We know Eden Hazard can win a game on his own and with him, possibly, heading off to a new and even more lucrative life outside of London, he will want to put on one last good show for the Blues.
This is a game that promises to be full of entertainment and goals between two sides that have fairly good records against each other, but the pressure may be on Arsenal.
Lose and the season would be defined as disappointing; win and we look to the future with renewed optimism.