It’s finally here.
The waiting is over, and our Europa League Final versus Chelsea in Baku is upon us.
The biggest match for Arsenal in a very long time hinges on many factors, but support won’t be one of them.
Both clubs were allotted 6,000 tickets for the 70,000 seater spectacle, and both clubs have sent some of their allotments back – with the Blues sending slightly more back. UEFA have started offering locals tickets to the game in an effort to make up the numbers and avoid a stale atmosphere – but this will be unavoidable.
The action will still take place on the pitch in front of some very brave fans, and compared to Chelsea’s preparations, Arsenal have had it relatively easy.
Stories of training pitch rows, Sarri storming off in reaction, not to mention injuries to key players means that the Gunners can be buoyed by the news, but not complacent.
For this is still a London derby, it is still a European final and it still holds a lucrative Champions League spot. With the Blues already qualified, our desire should be bigger than our opponents.
Then there is the small matter of Chelsea having won this trophy recently, as well as a European Cup. We haven’t won anything in Europe since 1994 – it is well overdue and can put this club back on the radar amongst the big boys.
So what can we expect our team to look like to take on Chelsea and attempt to bring the cup home?
In terms of injury, it is a case of the usual suspects, with Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding the long term absentees, and Aaron Ramsey’s hamstring putting paid to the end of his Arsenal career.
It will be Unai Emery’s selections that make the difference, and first and foremost is who will start in goal. Petr Cech will be retiring after this game and going back to our opponents in a Sporting Director capacity. It is unclear whether Cech will be given the send off his career warrants, or whether Bernd Leno is given the nod to play.
Then there is whether Emery will go for a conventional 4-2-3-1 or for his adaptable but defensive 3-5-2. Emery has some decisions to make.
Sarri however, needs to shift from his normal selections. N’Golo Kante is rated as 50% to play after a knee injury, so that could mean a start for Mateo Kovacic or if Sarri opts for an attacking approach – Ross Barkley.
They will be without Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Calum Hudson-Odoi – players that shone for Chelsea in the latter stages of the season – and they have a headache up top too.
Olivier Giroud is the top scorer of the competition, but Gonzalo Higuain has the stock that may demand a start. Perhaps even Sarri could go for Hazard in a false 9.
Player to Watch
The Belgian keeps Chelsea ticking and if it is his last game that everyone thinks it might be, then Hazard may be extra pumped to do something special. Hazard can do just that as well, he has kept the Blues afloat almost single-handedly all season. If he turns up, then we may need our defenders having their best game to keep him quiet.
How Will this Go?
Both teams have the players to make an impact on this very special occasion, but who will come flying out of the blocks? Chelsea have only been in Baku since Tuesday, whereas Arsenal arrived on Saturday. The preparation has been harmonious, and Chelsea’s has been a little awry.
That may point in our favour.
If we can keep their dangerman quiet, then the onus is on us to create the openings. Mesut Ozil has the stage set to remind everyone what he is capable of and if he can set up our two strikers, then Ozil will have succeeded – and we should have the trophy in our grasp.
Sounds simple, right?
Predicted Lineup - Cech, Maitland-Niles, Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal, Kolasinac, Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Predicted Scoreline - 2-1 to The Arsenal