Baku: Arsenal are aiming to win a first European trophy in a quarter of a century in distant Baku on Wednesday and their hopes of doing so appear to rest at the feet of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
After missing out on a top-four place in the Premier League, the assessment of Unai Emery’s first season in charge of the Gunners will be far kinder if they can end the campaign with victory in the Europa League final.
It all comes down to this London derby in an unlikely setting by the Caspian Sea — if Arsenal win, they will have a first piece of European silverware since raising the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 and with it the additional prize of a return to the Champions League.
And while the Gunners have frequently toiled defensively this season, conceding 51 goals in the Premier League, Emery knows he is the envy of almost every coach in Europe with Lacazette and Aubameyang in his ranks. They have scored 50 times between them this season, with Lacazette getting 19 goals and being named the club’s player of the year by Arsenal supporters.
His goal tally has been put in the shade by Aubameyang, who has netted 31 times, including a hat-trick in the second leg of their semi-final against Valencia and 22 goals in the Premier League to share the Golden Boot with Liverpool duo Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in his first full campaign in England.
Their importance to Emery is summed up by the fact the next highest scorers in his squad all have six goals — including the injured Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will not play in Baku due to well-publicised security concerns. Their figures in front of goal are all the more impressive given they have often had to fight it out for just one starting spot.
Sarri’s Chelsea future in spotlight
Maurizio Sarri faces an uncertain future as Chelsea manager even if the much-maligned Italian leads his side to victory in the final.
Sarri has endured a traumatic first season at Stamford Bridge and he heads to Baku with little clarity over his prospects of staying in charge beyond Wednesday’s final.
Despite guiding Chelsea into next season’s Champions League, via a third-place finish in the Premier League, and reaching two cup finals, there remains a sense Sarri is on borrowed time whatever the result against Arsenal.
The 60-year-old has been linked with a move to Juventus or Roma, with reports saying Chelsea would not block his return to Serie A....