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Arsenal vs Chelsea : Who Has The Upper Hand And Can Actually Script History ?

Arsenal, Chelsea, manager. Europa League final

Two new managers, one trophy. Only one will survive to see next season. Both Arsenal and Chelsea have had a fairly turbulent season, full of exhilarating highs and inevitable lows under their respective managers, Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri.

In the premiership, Chelsea found a late burst of form that saw then narrowly scrape a champions league slot for next season. Arsenal, during the same period ,went into their usual meltdown and threw away the chance to finish in third. So, you could say advantage Chelsea over Arsenal at this point but the truth is that there’s not much difference between these sides and the final is perfectly balanced in far away Baku.

In terms of performances, their encounters in the league have favoured Arsenal with the gunners losing 3-2 to their London rivals early in the season. A game they really should have won. Later in the campaign Arsenal blitzed Chelsea 2-0, after which, the Blues suddenly suffered a crisis of confidence which saw them drop points quicker than a man juggling coconuts on a skateboard.

The two coaches have had to deal with sides that don’t fit their preferred systems and both have tried to almost reinvent the wheel on occasion, to make their systems work, with mixed results. If one was looking objectively at those experiments in the two morphing sides, then Emery for Arsenal has performed better.

Their have been some strange choices along the way, with Lichtsteiner and Jenkinson appearing at right back for Arsenal, when one has no pace and the other hasn’t been afforded the opportunities to merit his inclusion. Xhaka was inexplicably drafted into the backline, when the Spaniard had young defenders waiting in the wings. The Swiss international took up a position that was as comfortable as filling your Wellington boots with cement and going on a hike through a field covered in thick mud.

Mustafi had somehow blagged his way into the right back position, only to prove that he is as good a right back as he is a central defender. However, despite the odd rush of blood to the head, Emery has been tactically astute and added a dimension that had been lacking from Arsenal since the days of George Graham.

If Emery suffered the odd period of confusion at Arsenal this season, then Sarri must have been suffering from concussion. He switched Eden Hazard to the role of striker, which was tantamount to jumping on a square peg and forcing it through the round hole. He then took N’Golo Kante out of his favoured position of defensive midfielder and pushed him further up the pitch, with predicable results.

Kante is probably the best player in the World at present in that position and to this date, it remains the strangest decision in football since West Ham’s move to the Olympic stadium. Both coaches are in the process of rebuilding their sides but only one may be around to see the final product.

Emery has had to contend with a cash shy owner and a complex management structure at Arsenal that requires multiple signatures just to get a cup of tea. Biscuits are even more of a kerfuffle apparently but he retains the full support of a club, that desperately needs him to succeed or the heads above him may start to roll.

Sarri, like Conti and Mourinho before him became infected with ‘Chelseaitis’ a strange condition that puts the manager on collision course with players, owner and fans. His baffling decision to question players motivation publicly in a strange tongue, when he’d spoken perfectly good English the rest of the season was frankly, the strains of madness. That came after the defeat to Arsenal and perhaps, on a psychological level Emery has a distinct advantage.

As we are all aware, winning a trophy as Chelsea manager/coach, means about as much as a verbal agreement in a howling storm. Sarri could have won the domestic treble and Europa league and still be signing on at the job centre on the following Monday.

Robert Di Matteo won the FA cup and champions league in 2012 and still had to clear out his desk before the next season began. The fact is that the players don’t trust him, the fans don’t really like him and Abramovich is the owner. None of this favours a long term stay.

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Sarri is the 15th manager since Abramovich took control of the club in 2003. The frequently used term ‘ managerial merry-go-round ‘ must now be owned by Abramovich, because of an endless folly that has cost £90m in compensation. The current incumbent may add substantially to that figure before assuming a job in Italy or Spain.At a push, he could wait until United throw Ole Gunner Solskjaer off the cliff and roll up in Manchester.

In terms of players missing, Ramsey, Holding and Bellerin are a massive miss for Arsenal but Chelsea’s main defensive component, N’Golo Kante, will also be absent with a knee injury, which is almost like an early Christmas present for Emery and Arsenal.

It’s going to be an interesting match in terms of tactics and strategy but all that meticulous planning could go out the window with one moment of brilliance by Hazard, Lacazette or Aubameyang.

Finally, one has to salute those devoted Arsenal and Chelsea fans who managed to get to Baku, despite UEFA making every effort to make it almost the most inaccessible venue in living memory.


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The Long Shadow
Anti Kroenke , anti Gazidis but always a gooner. Still wishes he could watch from the stands at the Highbury library.
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