The Premier League campaign may have ended more than a fortnight ago, but for four of its teams the season is still going on. On Saturday in Madrid, Liverpool and Tottenham will face off for the Champions League title, but tonight we have another all-English final in a UEFA competition. Chelsea, who finished third in the league, take on Arsenal and for the winner there is the chance to declare a somewhat shaky season to be a success. For Arsenal, it’s also the chance to secure a Champions League spot for 2019/20; a slot they were denied by a single point in the league table. Had they held on for a draw and not lost to an 81st-minute winner when they visited this same opponent, they’d already be sure of Champions League participation.
A lot of numbers will fly around in advance of this intriguing parochial battle. The match is being played in Baku, Azerbaijan, which is approximately 3000 miles from London, the city both sides call home. The teams are separated by just seven miles, and a total of 12,000 match tickets (for a 70,000 seat stadium) were allocated to the clubs for sale to fans who will need to take a minimum of two flights to get to the city.
Amid all the pages of dispute regarding the rights and wrongs of where this game is being played, there is a football match taking place nonetheless. Below, we take a look at the betting options for the night’s action.
Arsenal the underdogs, but the facts may be on their side
Coming into this game, Chelsea are seen as favourites – due, perhaps, to the fact that they finished two league places above their opponents here. With that said, the sides were separated by just two points, and so it would be unduly hasty to read into it that there’s a major gulf between the teams. In addition, Arsenal can point to the man picking their team and deciding the tactics tonight. Unai Emery has won this trophy on the last three attempts he has had at it. Admittedly those were all with Seville, but it’s no accident that he’s here again, managing in a fourth final in four bids.
Add to this the fact that Chelsea have been the subject of months of speculation over whether their manager Mauricio Sarri – like Emery, in his first year in the job – will be in his post beyond the end of this game. It has been suggested that his future rides on the result of this game – a suggestion to which he has responded by saying “If that is the case, sack me now”. Arsenal come into this game with, at least, a unified front, and that could make all the difference – they’re 11/10 to lift the trophy at the end of the night with Coral. With Chelsea odds-on, the smart money is on the Gunners.
Hazard Warning: Eden plays his last game for the Blues
Though there are talented players dotted throughout the Chelsea side, you could ask 100 experts who their best player is and only the contrarians would suggest anyone other than Eden Hazard. He makes, and scores, more goals for the club than any other player. The bad news for Blues fans is that, barring a hugely unlikely turn of events, this will be the last time he plays for them. Rumours abound that Chelsea have accepted a £115million bid from Real Madrid in advance of this game, but even if they haven’t done so, it’s more a matter of when than if. In truth, that’s been the case for most of the season, and he’s still outshone any other Blue.
If Chelsea are to get anything from this game, then, it’s likely that it will come from the Belgian winger. Betway have him at 13/10 to score in this game. A quick look at the stats will show that Hazard has not scored in the Europa League this season, but bear in mind that he was used sparingly throughout the competition. Tonight, he will start, and he enjoys the big stage. In addition, he’ll be keen to sign off from Chelsea with a trophy and a big performance, so he’s well worth getting on to find the net here.
Don’t expect a blowout, either way
These are two reasonably evenly-matched teams, playing a big final in an unfamiliar setting. Even if all of the 6,000 allocation of tickets for each team has been taken up, in full, there will be 12,000 partisan fans in a stadium that holds 70,000. Many of the seat-holders will have been given their ticket for free, and there is every chance the game will be played in a faintly bizarre atmosphere. These are the kind of conditions that lead to an awkward game, and it’s easy to see it taking more than ninety minutes to settle matters.
Picking the winner here could well be something of a coin toss, but it’s reasonable to expect that things will be close, whatever happens. It may well be worth looking to Paddy Power’s odds on how the match will be settled. For either team to win in extra time, or on penalties, the price is 5/1. On balance, we’d just about back the “extra time” option – thirty minutes of additional time allows a lot of scope for a single mistake or moment of magic which could decide the game. However, heed your hunch here, because no-one would be surprised to see it come down to spot-kicks in the end.
Bets of the Day
Arsenal to lift the trophy (Coral, 11/10); Game to be decided in extra time (Paddy Power, 5/1); Hazard to score anytime (Betway, 13/10)