It’s all eyes on the Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan for the first of two all-English European tournament finals this week, with the culmination of the Europa League.
The occasion marks the 198th meeting between Chelsea and Arsenal, though only the second time the two London sides have faced each other in European competition.
Arguably there’s more at stake for Unai Emery’s Arsenal. The Gunners must win the match in the capital Baku to qualify for the Champions League in the 2019/20 season, having finished outside the qualifying places - in fifth - in their domestic Premier League. This is the second season in which the top four positioned teams in the Premier League are allowed to enter straight into the UCL Group Stage.
Chelsea and manager Maurizio Sarri finished two points and two places ahead in third in the EPL to re-enter the Champions League after a season’s hiatus.
The result from two teams from the same nation, who already have respective European competitions in place for next season, then begs the question of who else will ultimately profit.
It won’t, however, be the team who finished directly below both of them in the Premier League. Sixth-placed Manchester United avoided a gnarly fixture congestion that would have taken place towards the end of July, thanks to an unlikely ally.
The Red Devils would have been obliged to play three Europa League qualifiers starting on July 25. This was the same date they are scheduled to play a pre-season friendly in the International Champions Cup against Tottenham Hotspur at the Hongkou Stadium in Shanghai. Manchester City’s victory over Watford in the FA Cup Final in mid-May ensured this was avoided. Seventh-placed Wolverhampton Wanderers were granted the according Europa spot instead of the defeated finalists.
Much like the seismic waves triggered from a quake, Arsenal’s victory will have repercussions across Europe.
“A vacancy created by the UEFA Europa League titleholder is filled by the third placed club of the association ranked fifth in the access list and the league path is rebalanced accordingly with priority given to the club of the best ranked association of the respective round in the access list." - Uefa Champions League rule 3.04b
Ligue 1 side Olympique Lyonnais - with newly appointed manager Sylvinho - will stand to benefit from an Arsenal win, and will be indebted to their former forward Alexandre Lacazette if he has anything to do with it for the Gunners. The Frenchman is expected to lead the line for Arsenal at the 11pm local time kick-off.
Lyon finished third in Ligue 1 this year, in a qualifying spot for the Champions League, and the 21st consecutive season of finishing in the top-five in the French top tier.
France and Ligue 1 are currently ranked fifth in the UEFA Club Coefficients order, behind Spain, England, Italy, and Germany. Arsenal lifting the Europa League trophy will allow Lyon to go straight through to the group stages in 19/20, instead of undergoing a gruelling set of qualifiers beginning in the third round, which is set to commence on July 22. Furthermore, Lyon had been - coincidentally - due to play Arsenal in the Emirates Cup around this period.
With the group stage games beginning in mid-September, this will allow a two-month reprieve for Les Gones from European competition. Lyon also benefited last year through Atletico Madrid’s defeat of Olympique de Marseille in the 2018 Europa League final; also finishing third then, Lyon avoided the preliminary rounds of Champions League qualification.
Furthermore, this would open in space for Eredivisie runners-up PSV Eindhoven. After finishing second in 18/19, PSV have been entered into the Champions League second qualifying round. Mark van Bommel’s side will take Lyon’s place in the third qualifying round in the League Path.
An Arsenal result goes even further. On May 22, HNK Rijeka produced a shock Croatia Cup victory over Prva Liga champions Dinamo Zagreb at the Aldo Drosina in Pula. Rijeka had already finished second in the league and were granted entry into the Europa League third qualifying round. They ultimately have the most to gain for what would only be the third time in the Champions League by taking PSV’s vacant spot should Arsenal produce a victory in Baku, according to The Sun.
It seems it won’t only be the red contingent of North London will be the only ones gunning for Emery’s fourth success in the Europa League.