Why Arsenal are favourites to win the Europa League
Background photo: wonker CC BY 2.0
It is England's moment. The Premier League has conquered Europe. For the first time in history, all the finalists for both the Champions and Europa League have emerged from the same country. Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea, and Arsenal all made their way to the grandest stages.
While the upcoming Champions League decider between Liverpool and Tottenham is, as expected, leading the line, the Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea has likewise been gaining traction in recent days.
The two London clubs did not have the best of campaigns at domestic level this season, and therefore both will be keen to make up for that when they lock horns in Baku. Chelsea struggled to a top-four finish. Arsenal, meanwhile, missed out - making this a must-win game for Unai Emery's men.
Following a slow start to their first few matches this season, the Gunners picked up at the right time, recording an impressive run of results. They proved themselves against the Premier League's elite teams during the second phase of the campaign.
However, after raising expectations and giving hope to the Emirates faithful during the season's midway point, it became obvious Arsenal couldn't maintain that level of performance. They fell off the pace at the decisive phase of the campaign.
Following a string of poor results, the Gunners lost all hope of claiming a domestic trophy as well as finishing in the top four. Fortunately, they still have the Europa League final to put things right. Emery's side could finish the season with a smile by beating Chelsea.
Even though Chelsea will be confident of claiming their first trophy under Maurizio Sarri later this month, there are many reasons to believe that Arsenal are better placed to go home with the coveted prize.
First, let's consider the two sides' recent performance in the tournament. Chelsea struggled to qualify for the final, narrowly edging Eintracht Frankfurt via penalty shootout in the previous round. Meanwhile, Arsenal were unstoppable, thrashing Valencia 7-3 over two legs.
Moreover, the rigid fighting spirit with which the Gunners overcame a two-goal deficit to edge past Rennes during the round of 16 is a statement of both their commitment and capability in this competition.
Emery's record is another boost for Arsenal. The Spaniard is the most successful manager in the history of the Europa League, having won the trophy in three successive seasons during his time at Sevilla. That, coupled with his tactical brilliance and ability to get the best out of players during the big games, will help his side tremendously.
What could be the biggest factor to propel Arsenal to Europa League triumph is their failure to secure a top-four finish via the Premier League. The Gunners are craving Champions League football. But, having failed to finish in the required zone, the Europa League represents their only passport to Europe's elite tournament next season. They will no doubt do all they can to realise that ambition.
Furthermore, Arsenal are currently enjoying a period of dominance over Chelsea. They have won four of the last eight meetings, drawing three. That could play in their favour in Baku.
Whether the Gunners will come out on top will be decided on May 29. But, if there is a favorite heading into this encounter, then it has to be Emery's men.