The Big Match Tactical View: Chelsea v Arsenal

Eden Hazard
This may be Eden Hazard's farewell appearance
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It's a double-header of all-English European finals this week, starting with Chelsea and Arsenal fighting it out for the Europa League. Michael Cox looks at the tactics, while Alan Thompson assesses the odds.

"Petr Cech is likely to start, as he is Arsenal’s designated cup goalkeeper – in his final appearance before re-joining Chelsea as part of their backroom staff."

Chelsea v Arsenal
Wednesday 20:00, BT Sport 2 / BT Sport YouTube.
Match Odds: Chelsea 2.56/4, Arsenal 3.211/5, The Draw 3.55/2.

Chelsea and Arsenal finish their season with a London derby - albeit one played 3,000 miles away in Baku, where there will be few Arsenal fans in attendance, and even fewer Chelsea supporters. With this match kicking off at 11pm local time, it will be something of a surreal encounter, but one with great significance for both sides.

It clearly means more, of course, to Arsenal. Chelsea have confirmed their Champions League participation with their third-placed Premier League finish, and with their preparation for this game interrupted by a post-season friendly in America, there are suggestions some of the players are already in holiday mood. For Arsenal, this result will essentially decide whether Unai Emery's first season is considered a success or a failure.

Injury problems for Sarri

Both sides have selection issues. Maurizio Sarri is without both Callum Hudson-Odoi and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who have both suffered Achilles' tendon injuries - a disastrous end of the campaign for two players who had forced their way into Chelsea's first XI. Antonio Rudiger is also still out, and there's a major doubt about N'Golo Kante. All this means that, at the end of a campaign where Chelsea's first XI has been very predictable from week to week, there are now serious doubts.

Defensively, this means that David Luiz will be partnered by Andreas Christensen, a capable back-up individually, but these two don't work particularly well as a pairing. Cesar Azpilicueta will play right-back, while at left-back Sarri must choose between Marcos Alonso, who often plays well against Arsenal, and Emerson Palmieri, who has started more regularly in recent weeks.

Sarri Profile 1280.jpg

Hazard the main threat

In midfield, the probable absence of Kante means Ross Barkley and Mateo Kovacic both starting, although they're competing to play if Kante makes the game - and the fact he's travelled to Baku suggests he's in contention. The other midfielder will be Jorginho, sitting deep in front of the defence.

Further forward there are two familiar debates - Pedro Rodriguez or Willian on the right flank, and Olivier Giroud or Gonzalo Higuain upfront. Pedro and Giroud seem more likely, although it's not impossible that Sarri could use Eden Hazard upfront with Pedro and Willian either side, as has been the case on occasion this season.

Emery likely to play a 3-4-1-2

Emery's selection is compromised by the fact Henrikh Mkhitaryan has not travelled to Baku for safety reasons. If Arsenal miss out on Champions League qualification and therefore suffer a financial setback, it's not difficult to envisage them taking legal action against UEFA for staging this game in a country where their team selection was compromised. Realistically, however, Mkhitaryan probably wouldn't have started here.

Emery is likely to go with the 3-4-1-2 system that worked well away at Valencia, with Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang combining upfront. Those two have been responsible for almost all Arsenal's goals against serious opponents in this competition, and against a Chelsea centre-back partnership that sometimes lacks aggression, they could wreak havoc.

Mesut Ozil has endured a strange campaign but will start as the number 10, given license to drift around but also probably tasked with picking up Jorginho too. He'll be supported by Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreria, who have the technical quality and tenacity to compete against a Chelsea midfield duo desperate to dominate possession.

Cech to bow out against his former side

Arsenal's main concern is stopping Hazard, especially without long-term injury absentee Hector Bellerin. It's likely Ainsley Maitland-Niles will play right-wing-back, and while he's enjoyed a good campaign in Bellerin's absence, few players are capable of stopping Hazard in full slight. Sokratis Papastathopoulos will probably play right-sided centre-back and offer close support, but he has a habit of diving into tackles, which Hazard will love. Shkodran Mustafi isn't a better option.

Laurent Koscielny will have an important role to play in the middle of the back three, with Nacho Monreal's discipline allowing Sead Kolasinac to fly forward on the overlap. He's been a major source of Arsenal's creativity this season, and could be a major force here. There's also the strange situation in goal, where Petr Cech is likely to start as Arsenal's cup goalkeeper - in his final appearance before re-joining Chelsea as part of their backroom staff.


Chelsea are favourites to win this one, but I think this is more finely-balanced than the odds suggest. A Hazard masterclass, in probably his final appearance for Chelsea, and Arsenal won't be able to cope. But the Gunners have a cohesive front two, and extra motivation to clinch Champions League qualification. With that in mind, I'll back Arsenal at 2.226/5, in the Winner 2018/19 market - whether it's sealed in normal time, extra-time or on penalties, I think that's a good price.

The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson

Chelsea and Arsenal will both make the arduous journey from London to Baku in Azerbaijan to contest the Europa League Cup final. Chelsea were also in the last all-English European final, that was the 2008 Moscow Champions League final where they lost out to Manchester United on penalties after drawing 1-1 at 90 minutes.

When these two sides met in the Premier League this season honours were shared, the Gunners won 2-0 at the Emirates and Chelsea won 3-2 at the Bridge. While Chelsea have already secured their place in the Champions League for next season by finishing third in the Premier League, Arsenal can only qualify by winning this competition.

One thing Arsenal do have in their favour though is Unai Emery, he knows exactly what it takes to win this after winning all three of his consecutive final appearances with Sevilla. By contrast this would be Maurizio Sarri’s first major trophy at the age of 60, it would make him the oldest manager to win a UEFA Final.

Chelsea are favourites to win this in 90 minutes and it’s hard to disagree with the prices, the Blues finished above the Gunners in the league and have the greater European pedigree. However, despite leading them to a third place league finish and a European final, Sarri has struggled to find acceptance at the Bridge. Win, lose or draw this looks like being his final game in charge and all this speculation over his future can’t be helping them.

I think Arsenal may just be better prepared and have too much for Chelsea on the night, I am not expecting a goal fest and it may even go all the way. So I will be backing Arsenal to win the UEFA Europa League at 2.226/5 rather than backing them to win over 90 minutes at 3.39/4.

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