Europa League: Both sides can oblige in Baku battle


BAKU welcomes Arsenal and Chelsea for the Europa League final on Wednesday night. Tom Love (@TomLove_18) runs the rule over the best betting options.

Arsenal v Chelsea | Wednesday 29th May 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport

The first episode of the two all-English European finals takes place in Baku on Wednesday night between London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea. It was a left-field choice of a location to host a major cup final and its once again left UEFA with egg on their face.

Both sides were only allocated 6,000 tickets. However, neither team have sold out their allocation and I’m not surprised. Considering the chaotic transport plans, excessive costs and distance to get to Azerbaijan, it’s understandable that few are making the long journey.

Another unsavoury subplot towards this game is the emission of Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan. With Armenian unable to guarantee his safety, due to the geopolitical troubles between the due countries conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. It’s another embarrassment for the authorities who are making themselves look all the more stupid year-on-year.

Some Euro 2020 games are scheduled to be played in Azerbaijan and I think that needs a second looking at. It’s a shame that the game will not be played in front of a packed out stadium but on the pitch it has all the makings of an intriguing and possibly quite exciting match-up.

Arsenal’s road to the final

The Gunners have the maestro of this competition at the helm in Spanish boss Unai Emery. He has won this tournament thrice with Sevilla in 2014, 2015 and 2016. It goes to show how well he copes with the rigours of the continent and given he’s managed in Spain, England, France and Russia, his variety in terms of knowledge and experience is a key asset of his.

Arsenal, like Chelsea, were expected to go far in this competition and cruised through their group against Vorskla Poltava, Qarabag and Sporting Lisbon – not much to write home about there but since then they’ve shown their mettle. The Gunners negotiated tricky-looking ties against Napoli and Valencia.

One thing that is in stark contrast to their domestic form is how they performed away in this competition. Arsenal went to the Stadio San Paolo and shut out a dangerous Partenopei and then visited the Mestalla and stuck four past Los Che.

Defensively too, on the whole, they’ve surprised a few keeping nine clean sheets en-route to Bake. Even so, from what we’ve seen for a few years now, it’s incredibly difficult to have the utmost faith in them to defend superbly.

Chelsea’s road to the final

To say Chelsea finished in the top three domestically, reached the EFL Cup final and the Europa League final and some see it as a failure is very strange. I do think Maurizio Sarri has been slightly under appreciated given that record but looking singularly at this tournament they’ve had possibly the easiest run possible.

Chelsea fielded a second string in the group stage and still comfortably topped the table, however that is to be expected considering they had PAOK, Mol Vidi and BATE Borisov as opponents. They then had Dynamo Kiev and Slavia Prague before a semi-final tie against Eintracht Frankfurt – the Blues were standout favourites in every fixture.

Tactics talk

It took a few months of the season for teams to figure out how to stop Chelsea, but once that secret was unlocked, many followed suit. Man-mark Jorginho and you cut off their main supply.

It takes a disciplined performance to do so but it can force the Blues to go long when they don’t necessarily want to. When successful, not only does it stop Chelsea from playing, but it also means as the opposition you’re more likely to win the ball back in dangerous positions when turning over possession.

It remains to be seen if Emery adopts this tactic and who he would chose to trigger the press; if it’s Alexandre Lacazette then he could be a big price at 7/1 (Betfair) to be booked. The French forward doesn’t enjoy tracking back and regularly fouls centre-halves and holding midfielders when he gets frustrated.

In the Europa League, Lacazette has picked up two yellows and a red in just seven starts and given the magnitude of this game I’m surprised he’s not shorter than 5/1. He commits an average of 1.40 fouls per-game, which is high for a striker, and given his possible role here it could be a significantly higher value come the end of the 90 minutes.

There’s no Callum Hudson-Odoi for Chelsea – he’s contributed a fair few goals in this competition – but they do have both Pedro and Willian who are ample replacements on the right wing. Sarri was dealt a big blow with midfield lynchpin N’Golo Kante picking up an injury; he’s rated 50/50 but is unlikely to be risked. Matteo Kovacic is likely to come in.

Elsewhere, centre half Antonio Rudiger is out for the Blues – which is a big blow – Andreas Christiansen will deputise. With Rudiger unavailable, Arsenal’s excellent front two will be looking to make their mark.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Lacazette have built up a great partnership and both are in the top six in terms of goal contribution in the Europa League. If Chelsea and Sarri stick with his back four then it could prove to their own detriment.

Alternative angles

Focusing on this specific game, the bookies have Chelsea as slight 7/5 favourites with Arsenal at 11/5 to win in 90 minutes. In all honesty, I expected that betting heat to be slightly tighter than it is.

Arsenal have had the harder run in, facing a greater quality of team and they have a manager who’s been there and done it. Chelsea have the better squad and probably a more reliable defence but a manager who lacks any major honours.

It’s two sides I generally loathe to back given their inconsistent nature, especially away. Therefore, I’m happy to swerve the Match Odds market as any result wouldn’t surprise me. The main bet that appeals is Both Teams To Score at 7/10 (William Hill). It’s true finals are usually cagey affairs but neither of these two keep the goals out when outside the capital..

Of course, many will argue the greater onus is on Arsenal as it’s their only chance of getting into the Champions League for next season – Chelsea have already secured their spot. However, in Eden Hazard, the Cobham clang have a real match winner – you feel he will need to put in a performance if they’re going to succeed here.

I’m a big fan of Hazard when he’s supporting Olivier Giroud at the top, the Frenchman is the perfect selfless foil for him. Giroud has been playing regularly in this competition and I’d expect him to start against his former club. But back to Hazard, this could be his last ever game for Chelsea, therefore I think he will want to put on a show.

Hazard is part of a multi that I’m keen on. Hazard, Giroud and Aubameyang all to have at least one Shot On-Target is rated as a 3/1 shot with Paddy Power. Giroud is joint top scorer in the competition and is averaging 1.40 on-target attempts, whereas Aubameyang is on seven Europa League goals and averaging a hefty 2.00 on-target per-game. This same bet is shorter than 6/4 elsewhere.

Best Bets

Arsenal v Chelsea – Both Teams To Score (7/10 William Hill)

Arsenal v Chelsea – Alexandre Lacazette to be carded (7/1 Betfair)

Arsenal v Chelsea – Eden Hazard, Olivier Giroud and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang to all have 1+ Shot On-Target (3/1 Paddy Power)

About Author

I was first interested in the betting industry by doing the odd coupon at 18 - when I’d see a team at odds I didn’t expect it sparked my curiosity as to why that was. I’d go and research everything around that club: form, team news, manager quotes, and try give my own price in an aim to out-do the bookies. I personally enjoy punting on the Football League and European competitions. I like to diversify what markets I bet on so sometimes it’s outrights, goals, player cards etc. The Football League angle comes from being an avid Bradford City fan which has its ups (reaching a League Cup final and beating Chelsea in the FA Cup) and its downs (The entirety of 2018). Hobbies of mine include playing football, cross country running, travelling and playing Football Manager.

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