Finally, the big day is upon us. Today, Chelsea take on Arsenal in the Europa League final, the sixth European final in club history (not counting UEFA Super Cups), and our 63rd game of this grueling season.
Chelsea arrived in Baku somewhat recharged but with a depleted squad following injuries to key players. While a big effort has been made to try to get Kanté healthy in time, he seems to be losing his race for fitness. Arsenal aren’t without personnel issues either, but winning the trophy is their only chance to book a Champions League spot for next season, and are thus expected to be hugely motivated.
But Chelsea captain César Azpilicueta, generally regarded as the most competitive person in the squad, has shrugged off any suggestions of complacency or a lack of motivation. For him personally, this would also be the first Chelsea trophy as captain, which would be most meaningful indeed.
“It’s something very special to lead this team and club alongside amazing people around me in the dressing room and the club. Winning a final as captain is something as a boy that you dream about – I did it once with the national team at the Under-19 Euros but this is a very different stage to that.
“I don’t agree that there is no pressure on us because every season we fight for every trophy. We achieved the target of Champions League football by finishing third but this was only one target and the other was to win this trophy. We started in September and always had the final in our mind so it’s a big game for us.”
This season has been a bit of a roller-coaster. We have seen and experienced, and lost count of the number of peaks, plateaus, and deep troughs. Ultimately, the Europa League final is a chance to close out the season on a high, with silverware. Winning is the modern Chelsea DNA, especially under Roman Abramovich, and that tradition, above all others, needs to be maintained.
“I’ve been here seven years and there has always been the feeling to win every game and every competition. This final is a big opportunity to keep winning trophies and it’s a trophy we won in 2013 so we know how big it is.
“We’ve been working hard with [Sarri] since July. There have been ups and downs where we’ve not been happy with results but the downs have made us stronger as a group and they are one of the reasons we’re here in this final. After all the hard work of this season, we all deserve to have a good game, play with our heart and give everything. It’s a London derby in a European final so it’s a big game for both teams.”
- Cesar Azpilicueta; source: Chelsea FC