A season so strange in its entirety deserves this kind of ending. A season that saw 22 straight matches without a loss intertwined with another round of frustrating winter holiday results and the inexplicable late-season league collapse. In-between it all, Arsenal managed to hold a stable ship in the Europa League group stage, only to face deficits heading into the second legs in their first two knockout round matchups versus BATE Borisov and Stade Rennes respectively, the weakest of their four opponents faced during this stage of the competition. Strange, indeed. Also very frustrating.
But through it all - peculiar squad selections by first-year head coach Unai Emery, the announcement of Aaron Ramsey leaving for Juventus this summer on a free transfer, the multiple blown opportunities of automatic Champions League qualification during the final six weeks of the league calendar - they overcame those deficits, those defeats, and costly squad departures (not to mention season-ending injuries to key players such as Hector Bellerin) to arrive in a city and country so morally bankrupt, in a final hosted by an organization equally bereft of values, that it only makes sense that this iteration of Arsenal Football Club would be 90 minutes away from a European trophy, versus a London rival for whom values and morals have been in short supply for quite some time now.
A win silences critics of Emery, if only for a moment. After all, the former Sevilla boss was brought in to win in this competition that he seemingly has a cheat code for, and, further, he will have accomplished something in twelve months’ time that his predecessor never did in his 22 illustrious, legendary years. A loss would only add more fuel to the fire that recency bias and advanced analytics stokes in those who think he doesn’t belong on Arsenal’s touchline.
In the end, what will be Arsenal’s short-term future resides on how well Emery selects his squad, how his players heed his instructions, if Shkodran Mustafi stays on his feet in his own penalty box, and if Arsenal can match the firepower and influence that Eden Hazard brings - and maybe neutralize his impact in the match in the process. If all these variables line up in Arsenal’s favor, then this wacky, hilariously-frustrating season ends on a high note and the club returns to a competition many fans took its yearly qualification in the past for granted. Let’s not imagine, for now, if the opposite of all the above happens.
Arsenal vs. Chelsea
2019 Europa League Final
Baku Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan
Wednesday, May 29th, 2019
3pm EDT/2pm CDT/12pm PDT
US Streaming: B/R Live, FuboTV (affiliate link) others