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Previewing Wednesday's Europa League final between Arsenal and Chelsea in Baku

Europa League specialist Unai Emery seeks fourth European trophy against London neighbours.

A European final, between two English sides, hosted in Asia – this is going to feel all a bit surreal. The deplorable political situation in Baku—resulting in Henrikh Mkhitaryan being unable to travel due to safety concerns—coupled with the financial and logistical impossibilities for the travelling fans, has left a pretty sour taste in everyone’s mouth. That’s everyone barring the brown envelope-wielding UEFA officials, of course.

But unfortunately the show must go on, and despite the ridiculous setting, this is a fixture which looks really exciting. The bookies have Chelsea as slight favorites, which is perhaps fair judging by the sides’ respective seasons, but I’m not so sure I agree with them.

There’s a discourse which suggests Arsenal will want this more—virtue of their failure to qualify for the Champions League domestically—but a European final is a European final, and Chelsea’s top four finish will play absolutely no part in proceedings. The Blues will take almost as much pleasure in preventing Arsenal from playing Champions League football next season than they will in winning this competition.

If this game was being played over two legs, my money would be on Chelsea. However, in a straight shootout, I’m going to back Arsenal to lift the trophy.

The Gunners have won two of their last three meetings with Chelsea, and while they’re never too far away from defensive calamity, the firepower they possess up front: namely Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, gives them an edge over Chelsea, whose only remotely reliable goalscorer is Eden Hazard.

I’ll draw some parallels with the 2017 FA Cup final, where newly-crowned Premier League champions Chelsea, under the stewardship of Antonio Conte, were being backed by everyone to overcome Arsenal. But Arsenal showed up, beat them, and ultimately that’s all that matters on the day.

The disparity isn’t nearly as large as it was two years ago, but while you generally know what you get with Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, Arsenal are a much more enigmatic side – capable of both the sublime and the disastrous.

On Wednesday, I’m backing Europa League specialist Unai Emery to lead the Gunners to glory at +105.

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