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UEFA Europa League final: The long road to Baku

Europa League, News


English duo Arsenal and Chelsea will square off in the UEFA Europa League final next week, with the former looking to secure a place in next season’s Champions League with a win. The Blues have already secured their place amongst Europe’s elite next season, but manager Maurizio Sarri will be eager to lift his first major trophy.

Gunners boss Unai Emery is no stranger to the Europa League, winning the competition on three separate occasions with former club Sevilla. The climax to this year’s tournament promises to be a cracker, as the London rivals slog it out in Baku’s Olympic Stadium. The 2,500 mile trip to Azerbaijan has been a hot topic of conversation in the lead up to the final, so let’s take a look how both sides got there. Before we do, be sure to check out the Chelsea v Arsenal betting with all the markets now available.


Arsenal group stages

As expected, Arsenal were heavy favourites to win Group E and that’s exactly what they did. Five wins and a draw at home to Sporting Lisbon saw Emery’s side record 16 points from a possible 18, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the line with two goals, despite hardly featuring.

Emery opted to play a couple of youngsters in the shape of Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe, gaining valuable first-team experience in the process as the Gunners cruised into the knockout stages.


Knockout stages

The last round of 32 saw Arsenal drawn against Belarusian side BATE Borisov, and the Eastern European minnows caused quite the upset as they recorded a 1-0 win on home soil. Stanislav Dragun was the hero and Alexandre Lacazette was certainly the villain, earning a straight red card for a nasty elbow.

Order was restored in the return leg as Arsenal brushed BATE aside 3-0, with centre-back Shkodran Mustafi getting amongst the goals. Up next were Ligue 1 side Stade Rennais, who capitalised on Arsenal’s poor away form and recorded a deserved 3-1 first-leg league.

However, that’s as good as it got for the French side as the Gunners once again recorded a 3-0 win to progress, Ainsley Maitland-Niles scoring and looking impressive throughout as Aubameyang helped himself to a brace.


Quarters and semis

Italian giants Napoli were paired with Arsenal at the quarter-final stages, and many neutrals expected the Gunners’ run to come to an end. That theory was quickly quashed as Arsenal dominated their visitors in the home leg, recording a comfortable 2-0 win and even picking up a 1-0 win in Naples.

That meant a semi-final showdown with Valencia, with the first leg being played on English soil. Arsenal didn’t get off to the brightest of starts, falling a goal down after 11 minutes but a Lacazette brace and a last-gasp Aubameyang strike gave the Gunners a 3-1 advantage. The return leg at the Mestalla was all about the Gabonese striker, who helped himself to a hat-trick as Arsenal booked their first European final since 2006 with a 4-2 win.

Baku Stadium


Chelsea group stages

Chelsea replicated Arsenal’s record of five wins and a draw from Group L, meaning they also topped the group with 16 points. The Blues made light work of PAOK Salonika, BATE and Vidi FC and they notched 12 goals in the process. Their solitary draw came in the last game away at Vidi, with Willian and Olivier Giroud on target in a 2-2 draw.

The star of Chelsea’s group campaign had to be Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who scored his first ever hat-trick in the 3-1 at Stamford Bridge victory over BATE. Giroud and Willian also helped themselves to a few goals in the group stages.


Knockout stages

Swedish outfit Malmo were Chelsea’s opponents in the round of 32, and the Blues picked up a valuable away win in the first-leg, with Ross Barkley and Giroud scoring in a 2-1 win. The same pair proved to be Malmo’s thorn in the return game, as they both scored again in a 3-0 win.

The round of 16 saw Chelsea paired with Dynamo Kiev, and the Ukrainian giants put in a rather timid performance in the two games. The first-leg saw goals from Pedro, Willian and Callum Hudson-Odoi give the Blues a comfortable win but the return trip to Kiev provided a goal fest.

Giroud was the star of the show as he helped himself to a hat-trick, with Hudson-Odoi and Marcus Alonso also scoring in a 5-0 rout. The 8-0 aggregate victory saw Chelsea paired with surprise package Slavia Prague in the quarters.


Quarters and semis

The Czech side came mightily close to halting Chelsea’s quest for Baku, who narrowly lost out 1-0 on home turf with Alonso heading in a late winner. The return leg at Stamford Bridge saw an actioned-packed game which Chelsea edged out 4-3, with all seven goals being scored by the 55th minute.

The Blues 5-3 aggregate win saw them paired with Eintracht Frankfurt of the Bundesliga, and the two sides cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw in Germany. The return leg in London generated exactly the same score line, with Loftus-Cheek scoring for the Blues and Luka Jovic replying for Frankfurt.

This meant extra-time and eventually penalties, whereby Chelsea’s star and talisman Eden Hazard scored the decisive kick to ensure the Blues would undertake the long road to Baku, with old foes Arsenal in the final.

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