Arsenal and Chelsea will contest an all-English Europa League final in Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku on Wednesday.
It is the first time two English sides will meet in the tournament’s showpiece since Tottenham beat Wolves over two legs in 1972 when the competition was known as the UEFA Cup.
Here, Football Paradise takes a look at the main talking points.
Safety first for no-go Mkhitaryan
Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will play no part in the final. The Armenia international will not be travelling due to the on-going dispute between his country and Azerbaijan. Despite assurances from Azerbaijan against any threat of violence, the 30-year-old was not convinced about his safety on the pitch and some Gunners fans have debated on social media whether to boycott the final in protest. He has featured in 11 of Arsenal’s 14 Europa League ties this season, but missed their group game against Qarabag in Baku in October for the same reason.
Problems getting there and Baku again
UEFA has been criticised for choosing Baku to host a major European final and apologised for the travel chaos experienced by both clubs’ fans, who face a round trip of 5,000 miles. Arsenal and Chelsea have been allocated only 6,000 tickets each, which represents 17 per cent of the 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, due to restrictions over the number of people Baku’s airport can handle. Despite concerns the stadium might only be two-thirds full, UEFA has defended its decision, saying it would be “utterly unfair to exclude certain venues just based on their decentralised geographical position”.
Hazard can sign off in style
Eden Hazard will want to bow out with a bang in what is expected to be his final game for Chelsea. The 28-year-old, who has said he has made a decision over his future and informed the club, appears likely to join Real Madrid later this summer. The Belgium forward has a year left on his contract at Stamford Bridge, but Chelsea are currently fighting a FIFA transfer ban over Financial Fair Play rules and cashing in on their prize asset now, rather than losing him for nothing next summer, would help balance the books. Hazard joined Chelsea from Lille for £32million in 2012.
Arrivederci Signor Sarri?
Maurizio Sarri could also be involved in his final game for Chelsea as speculation mounts over his future. The 60-year-old has not had an easy ride at Stamford Bridge after replacing fellow Italian Antonio Conte last July. He publicly criticised his players in January, while it has been reported some senior players will look to leave the club if he remains in charge. Champions League qualification and a possible Europa League crown is no guarantee that he will still be at the helm, with Massimiliano Allegri again linked with Chelsea after leaving Juventus and declaring his desire for an immediate new challenge.
Emery is ‘Mr Europa League’
Arsenal boss Unai Emery will make it a record-breaking fourth Europa League win as manager if his side overcome their London rivals. Emery, appointed as Arsene Wenger’s successor just over a year ago, guided his former club Sevilla to three successive tournament wins in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Giovanni Trapattoni is the only other manager to win the tournament three times, with Juventus (1977 and 1993) and Inter Milan (1991). Jose Mourinho (Porto and Manchester United) and Rafael Benitez (Valencia and Chelsea) are among five managers to have won it on two occasions.
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