Chelsea v Arsenal preview: Sarri on shaky ground as Emery looks for familiar success
Arsenal and Chelsea face off in the Europa League final on Wednesday with much at stake for both clubs.
When Chelsea meet Arsenal in the Europa League final on the shores of the Caspian Sea on Wednesday night, it might be coach Maurizio Sarri's last match in charge despite what appears as a solid first year at Stamford Bridge. Under the Italian, Chelsea have qualified for the Champions League next season and reached the final of the League Cup before losing in a penalty shootout against Manchester City.
By contrast Arsenal, under Unai Emery in his first season in London, missed out on the four Champions League spots on offer in the Premier League after a late slump in form.The Gunners must now beat their city rivals in the Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan’s capital Baku to squeeze into Europe's premier competition.
However, should Arsenal win the Europa League, the Spaniard's first season would represent an unmitigated success, with Emery leading the Gunners back to Europe's top table and adding silverware for good measure.
And so it is Sarri who seems to be on the shakier ground, not least because of Chelsea's record of hiring and firing managers – a dozen, including interim coaches, have come and gone since Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.
Arsenal, by contrast, gave former manager Arsene Wenger 22 years in the job before he made way for Emery.
Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante is a doubt after sustaining a knee injury in training over the weekend. The France international missed Chelsea's previous two games with a hamstring injury but returned to training last week and manager Sarri was confident he would be fit for the club's season-ending showpiece in the Azerbaijan capital.
The 28-year-old's absence is a blow for Sarri, who is already without the services of defender Antonio Rudiger, midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek and winger Callum Hudson-Odoi due to injuries.
Emery has not decided whether Petr Cech will play in the Europa League final against Chelsea on Wednesday. Cech, 37, is retiring at the end of this campaign and is in the running to start against his former club Chelsea, who he will rejoin as sporting director in the close season. Bernd Leno has been Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper domestically, but the German has started just three Europa League games this season, compared to Cech's 10, giving Emery a decision to make ahead.
The Gunners are without Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has not travelled with the squad amid security fears while Aaron Ramsey has been ruled out with a hamstring injury.
CHELSEA'S TOP 5 GOALS EN ROUTE TO THE FINAL
ARSENAL'S TOP 5 GOALS EN ROUTE TO THE FINAL
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAY
"For me at the beginning of the season it was really very difficult to understand my players, to understand the mentality. But after a very difficult month in January, in February they started to change, I think, or probably I changed, I don’t know.
" "n this moment, I love them because I have 20, 22 wonderful men, and wonderful players. So now I am really very happy with them. Of course I have to consider it for the future and I have to consider that I love the English football and I love the Premier League.""
“I want to do something important here and something important here, for example, is to play for this title. I think we deserve to play, and we did a good way in this competition and we feel a lot in this competition to do something important together.
" After our target started with two ways. One is in the Europa League and second in the Premier League to go to the Champions League because it’s the first objective. "
"And after to play with the titles and we’re going to do this tomorrow: play with one title and one possibility to go to the Champions League. But football is to enjoy and to play with all our good spirit and also I think this competition is improving a lot.”
Baku has proven a controversial choice of venue.
As such UEFA is facing the embarrassment of large sections of the Olympic Stadium being empty. Supporters from both London-based clubs have been reluctant to make the 5,000-mile round trip to Azerbaijan’s capital. The Gunners have sold more than 3,000 tickets and a further 500 have been purchased by fans from around the world, but Chelsea have fared worse.
The Blues still have 4,000 of their 6,000 allocation unsold, with the club joining Arsenal in sending the remaining tickets back to UEFA. Both Arsenal and Chelsea teamed up with travel partner Thomas Cook Football in a bid to boost numbers with four chartered planes, but it has proven a hard sell and supporters can no longer buy tickets through the clubs. High costs and limited flight availability have deterred fans, with many initially complaining over just 10 per cent of the stadium’s 69,000 capacity being allocated to each club.
Supporters who have decided to make the trip will have had to secure a visa ahead of making the five-hour flight, before contending with the 11pm local time kick-off.
Sponsors have an allocation of less than 2,000, while 23,000 tickets have already been bought by local supporters. All returned tickets will go on general sale, but it is unlikely the demand will meet the stadium's capacity.
The news comes after Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s decision to miss the final after expressing fears for his safety due to the political tensions between the player's homeland Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Arsenal said in a statement they were “very sad” he was missing out on the final in such circumstances and revealed they had written to UEFA expressing their “deep concerns” at the situation. UEFA later insisted that a “comprehensive security plan” was in place for Mkhitaryan while the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan branded Mkhitaryan’s decision not to play “unwarranted” and said the host country had “provided all the necessary guarantees” to ensure his safety.
Arsenal 7/5, Draw 32/13, Chelsea 11/5