It’s a huge week in English football. The biggest ever, perhaps.
We’ve seen all-Premier League encounters in European finals before – Chelsea facing Manchester United in Moscow the most recent, 11 years ago – but it’s a measure of the quality of the game in this country that both the Europa League and Champions League finals are all-English affairs. Both competitions will have English winners. There’s so much at stake.
Tottenham meet Liverpool in Madrid on Saturday, but first up, Baku. Azerbaijan’s stunning capital city plays host the first ever London derby in the final of a major continental competition, with Arsenal and Chelsea going nose-to-nose.
Unai Emery knows how to get over the line. He’s one of two managers ever to win this competition three times – the only to win three consecutive Europa League crowns, to boot – and this Arsenal side, under his stewardship, have an air of inevitability about them. He’s got a habit of guiding his teams on legendary journeys – it’s no different this year.
Arsenal’s record on the road in this season’s competition is mighty impressive. Victory at Sporting CP in the group stages was a strong enough statement, but the character to overturn a deficit against Rennes – albeit at home – and two excellent victories at Napoli in the quarter-finals and at Valencia in the last four put them in a strong position ahead of Wednesday’s finale.
Emery has quietly worked wonders since succeeding Arsene Wenger last summer, on a limited budget, and has firmly proven himself as the right man to take over a dynasty. You only need to look at Manchester United to see how not to do it, but Arsenal have got it right. The Spaniard winning the Europa League and securing Champions League football for next season at the first time of asking will rubber stamp a successful debut campaign in England.
Across London, rivals Chelsea are no different.
Maurizio Sarri has perhaps not received the praise he might have hoped for to date, but a respectable third-placed finish in the Premier League – finishing only behind the two most impressive title challengers in the division’s history – and a major European final is nothing to be sniffed at. That’s especially considering how much time it should have taken to implement his unique style of football on his new group of players.
One of those, Olivier Giroud, is the competition’s joint top scorer, with 10 goals. They’re unbeaten throughout the competition in 2018/19, with a 5-0 win at Dynamo Kiev and a thrilling penalty shootout win over Eintracht Frankfurt last time out the highlights.
And given the big game players at their disposal – Eden Hazard will surely be the man to stop, as he always is – the Blues will have a real thirst for victory by the time the kick off rolls around.
On the ground, Baku is alive with anticipation. Travelling fans and locals are expectant of a game of the highest quality between some of Europe’s greatest players. From Hazard to Aubameyang, Higuain to Lacazette, this game has so much promise, and it’s here.
This is not just any London derby – it’s the first of its kind – but it’ll be a legendary culmination of a long journey for only one of these two domestic rivals. It’s a chance to make history.
This article was brought to you by Enterprise, commercial partner of the UEFA Europa League