We’ve reached the end of the road. It’s been an eventful first year under Unai Emery, but one that has the chance of ending with Arsenal’s first European trophy since the 1994 UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup. Ahead of the match, we talked with Dávid Pásztor of SBN’s Chelsea blog, We Ain’t Got No History, to discuss the club’s first year with Maurizio Sarri, the potential exit of Eden Hazard, and the upcoming Final.
I answered WAGNH’s questions about Arsenal as well; you can read those answers here.
TSF: Maurizio Sarri, his style of play, and his future get a lot of discussion, but how would you grade his first year at Chelsea?
WAGNH: It’s been very divisive. Results on the pitch have varied from good to bad to great to historically terrible. The initial 18-match unbeaten run hid a lot of flaws that never got corrected and it took way too long for Sarri to relent even on the tiniest facet of his supposedly amazing “Sarri-ball”. Which, it turns out, the squad seem incapable of actually executing, Sarri seems incapable of teaching, or both.
And yet, here we are in third, with two cup final appearances. Meanwhile the fans are booing with alarming regularity and let’s not even wade into the nonsense that plays out on Twitter every day. Sarri’s inspired a cult-following, and hostility not seen since Rafa Benítez was interim manager, in nearly equal measure. Even the club, who couldn’t have cared less about all the travel and access issues with Baku, have acknowledged this and are said to be concerned by the toxic relationship.
TSF: Based on what you’ve seen this year, would you prefer Sarri for a locked in five seasons, or to move on to Chelsea’s next manager for 2019/20?
WAGNH: My personal preference would be for a coach whose methods and tactics I can relate to and understand — Conte, for example, whom I positively adored to the bitter end. Sarri’s not someone I particularly enjoy watching or listening to, and I don’t need my football to be striving towards some Utopian ideal. So in that sense, I’d prefer someone else. I certainly wouldn’t want him to him to stay for five years, that’s for sure. One more year’s probably okay, just to see what happens.
TSF: How much do you think the final impacts his future at Chelsea, and what is your prediction on his fate?
WAGNH: I don’t think the result of the game matters too much. Chelsea appear willing to let him go if someone/anyone/Juventus pay up. And I think that might just happen, although the last summer we’ve had without any managerial speculation was 2015, so this is all quite normal, in a sense.
TSF: Your squad may be facing your former keeper, and potentially future staff member, Petr Cech. Does the Chelsea faithful still regard Cech as their player, much in the way Arsenal fans think of Oliver Giroud?
WAGNH: Čech is a Chelsea Legend and I’m not sure anything can change that.
TSF: Who is the player that has mostly gone under the radar this season, that you think Arsenal should be worried about?
WAGNH: The only player y’all should be worried about is Eden Hazard, especially with Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and now N’Golo Kanté all injured. Kepa has been secretly good at penalties, if we get that far, and Ross Barkley was excellent for a minute back in October.
TSF: Fill in the blank - Arsenal can stop Chelsea if they _____.
WAGNH: Stop Hazard.
TSF: This could be Eden Hazard’s final match for Chelsea. Do you hold out hope that he stays for another year?
WAGNH: Yes, but it’s a very, very faint hope. All signs point to him leaving and he’s certainly not dissuading that notion either. Chelsea have made the asking price clear to Real Madrid (£130m), so now it’s up to them. We are playing a somewhat risky game with very little leverage as Hazard only has one year left on his contract, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
TSF: Chelsea is known for its massive loan army. Which two players currently out on loan do you think have the best chance of playing in the Premier League next season with the senior team?
WAGNH: Center forward Tammy Abraham (on loan at Aston Villa) and full back Reece James (on loan at Wigan Athletic) look two of the most likely. Abraham was set to be part of the squad this season already before opting for a loan and more playing time and James was ridiculously good for Wigan and has already joined back up with Chelsea for the post-season charity friendly.
TSF: Give us your starting formation and lineup for Chelsea?
WAGNH: 4-3-3: Kepa | Emerson, David Luiz, Christensen, Azpilicueta | Barkley, Jorginho, Kovačić | Hazard, Giroud, Pedro
TSF: What’s your score prediction?
WAGNH: Something high-scoring and silly, like the 3-2 at the Bridge at the start of the year. I don’t think we’re winning this.
Thanks to Dávid and WAGNH for answer our questions. Arsenal take on Chelsea in the Europa League Final this Wednesday.