Arsenal vs Chelsea: The key battles in the Europa League final including Eden Hazard, Petr Cech and Mesut Ozil

29 May

The first of the two all-English European finals takes place on Wednesday night between Arsenal and Chelsea.

The two Premier League clubs face each other for the Europa League in Baku, with commentary live on talkSPORT.

For Arsenal it is a chance to claim that all important Champions League place while Maurizio Sarri is looking to end a turbulent season with his first every trophy as a manager.

Petr Cech is likely to feature in his last professional game in the Europa League final
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Ahead of the 8pm kick-off there is still plenty we do not know.

Unai Emery did not confirm if Petr Cech will start the match in his final professional game while N’Golo Kante was only 50/50 to play.

Here at talkSPORT.com we have taken a look at the key battles we can look forward to in the match.

Olivier Giroud vs Petr Cech

Both players will be playing against their former club, Cech for Arsenal and Giroud for Chelsea.

The Gunners’ goalkeeper is likely to start in what will be his final game in professional football before retirement.

He will have to stop Olivier Giroud if he wants to end his glittering career with a final piece of silverware.

Giroud has scored 10 goals on Chelsea’s route to the final and has been a key part of their success.

Olivier Giroud recently signed a one-year contract extension at Chelsea
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The France international will also want to put down a marker to be considered as their number one striker next season following his one-year contract extension.

With the Blues’ impending transfer ban, Eden Hazard’s possible departure and Gonzalo Higuain’s loan ending, the burden will fall to the 32-year-old to provide the goals.

Eden Hazard vs Ainsley Maitland-Niles

This could be Hazard’s final game in a Chelsea shirt as all things point to a transfer to Real Madrid in the summer.

The forward can add a sixth trophy during his time at Stamford Bridge and also hit 20 goals in a season for the first time if he nets in Baku.

Maitland-Niles, 21, has a tough task on his hands in keeping Hazard at bay during the game.

Eden Hazard could join Real Madrid this summer
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The full-back has established himself as a regular under Emery with Hector Bellerin still out injured.

It will be a test for the youngster and one that will show if he is worth his place next season with reports suggest the Gunners are looking at signing a full-back in the summer.

Jorginho vs Mesut Ozil

Former Napoli man Jorginho has been in good form for Chelsea as they hit form towards the end of the season.

The deep-lying midfielder is an important cog in Maurizio Sarri’s side and will be tasked with stopping Ozil from playing and also starting Chelsea attacks.

Mesut Ozil needs to be a key figure if Arsenal are to win the Europa League
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Ozil is not known for his defensive capabilities but may need to help out his side to stop Jorginho playing his natural game.

This could be the key battle to decide where the trophy will end up.

Aubameyang and Lacazette vs Chelsea defence

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have formed a formidable partnership at Arsenal this season.

The pair have combined for an amazing 50 goals in all competitions while they have been directly involved in 17 goals during the Europa League.

Chelsea centre-backs David Luiz and Andreas Christensen have a tough task on their hands keeping them quiet in the final.

Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang could have too much for Chelsea
GETTY

The Blues’ defence is already thin with Antonio Rudiger missing the last few games of the season.

They have only conceded three goals in their last five games, though, and it will be an intriguing battle at the Olympic Stadium in Baku.

You can hear the Europa League final LIVE from Baku on talkSPORT from 8pm

Arsenal team news: How Gunners could line-up for Europa League final against Chelsea with Unai Emery yet to reveal if Petr Cech will play

29 May

Unai Emery is hoping his first season at Arsenal ends on a high with a Europa League final win.

Not only will it be a first piece of silverware for the manager but also mean a coveted Champions League final place.

The Gunners finished outside the top four in the Premier League but have a second chance of getting into next season’s elite European competition.

They must beat Chelsea in the final in Baku, with commentary live on talkSPORT, to seal that place.

Here at talkSPORT.com we have taken a look at how Arsenal could line-up for the final tonight.

How Arsenal could line-up against Chelsea in the Europa League final
Build Lineup

There are still question marks over who will play in goal for the Gunners on Wednesday.

Petr Cech could be in for a final swansong before his retirement at the end of the season and has been their goalkeeper in the Europa League this season.

He could decide to go with Bernd Leno who has been their league keeper and deny Cech the chance to close out his career against his former club.

Speaking in his pre-match press conference on Tuesday, Emery said: “The first XI for tomorrow, I’m going to see tomorrow.

“Cech is a great man, a great professional, it is amazing his behaviour and final year with us.

“I want to do something important with him in the last moment of your career, playing or not playing.

“He deserves trust in him, his career says to us he is a gentleman. He can start or cannot start, I am going to decide.

“How can we not believe in him?”

Emery is likely to go five at the back with Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles to be used as the wing-backs.

Mesut Ozil has not been a favourite of Unai Emery but may still start
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Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal should line-up as the central defenders.

Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka will be used in front of the defence with Mesut Ozil in the more advanced attacking role.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have formed a fantastic partnership this season and have 50 goals between them and will be a danger for the Chelsea defence.

Can Arsenal claim a third European trophy by beating Chelsea in Baku?

Find out by listening to live commentary of the match on talkSPORT from 8pm.

Arsenal team news: How the Gunners could line-up against Valencia for their Europa League semi-final second leg

9 May

Arsenal have the slight advantage going into the second leg of their Europa League semi-final with Valencia on Thursday.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a late goal at the Emirates in the first leg to make it 3-1 after Alexandre Lacazette had scored twice in the first half.

The Gunners will have to be wary of the away goal Valencia possess as they know a 2-0 defeat will see them crash out.

Unai Emery’s side have a good chance of reaching the final
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As we have seen with this week’s Champions League matches, three goal leads have not even been enough of a cushion.

Unai Emery’s side know that their only realistic chance of getting into the Champions League is by winning this competition.

They have been shambolic away from home for large parts of the season, with some particularly questionable results in the Europa League.

Arsenal have already been beaten by Rennes and BATE Borisov and know they will need to rectify this to progress to the final in Baku.

So, how will Arsenal line-up? We’ve predicted their XI below.

How Arsenal could line up against Valencia
Build My Lineup

In defence, Emery should be able to revert to a back-five with Ainsley Maitland-Niles able to return following his domestic suspension.

He will come in for Stephan Lichtsteiner while Laurent Koscielny is likely to be fit for the trip to the Mestalla.

In midfield, Emery will have to choose between Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira to partner Granit Xhaka in the middle.

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Guendouzi started the first leg at the Emirates while Torreira replaced him in their match at Brighton on Saturday.

Lacazette and Aubameyang are in fine form up front with the latter netting four times in his last six games.

Arsenal vs Brighton: Some Gunners fans think Unai Emery has ‘given up on top four’ with his selection of Stephan Lichtsteiner at right-back

5 May

Stephen Lichtsteiner starts his first game for Arsenal since February and some fans were less than impressed to see him in the side to play Brighton.

The veteran right-back has not started a game since February 24 and has made 21 appearances for the Gunners this season.

Stephan Lichtsteiner starts for Arsenal against Brighton
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He replaced the suspended Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who was sent off in their previous Premier League match.

Alexandre Lacazette leads the line and will have an attacking trio of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang behind him.

Unai Emery’s side need a win to keep alive their top four hopes as Manchester United dropped out of the race with their draw at Huddersfield.

Some Gunners fans were not overly thrilled to see Lichtsteiner back in the starting XI for the clash at the Emirates.

The 35-year-old is expected to leave the club at the end of the season when his contract expires.

Peterborough striker Ivan Toney becomes latest footballer to suffer racial abuse on social media

1 May

Peterborough striker Ivan Toney has become the latest footballer to suffer racial abuse on social media.

The 23-year-old was sent banana and monkey emojis on Instagram during Posh’s 3-2 win over Portsmouth on Tuesday evening.

Ivan Toney shared the racial abuse on Twitter

Toney scored twice at Fratton Park to keep alive Peterborough’s League One play-off hopes with just one game to go.

After the match, he shared a screenshot of the abuse received on Twitter with an eyebrow raising emoji as a caption.

Peterborough announced they will be reporting the incident to the police.

In a statement, the club said: “We are aware of a message that has been sent to one of our players on social media of a racist nature this evening.

“The content of that message is wholly unacceptable and we will be reporting it to the football authorities, social networks and the police.”

Anti-discrimination charity Kick It Out offered their support to Toney in the wake of the incident.

“Yet again, more racist abuse on social media,” a Kick It Out statement read.

“We fully support @theposhofficial’s condemnation of this behaviour. As always, we are here for support and guidance for both club and player.”

Toney has scored 21 goals in all competitions in a prolific season for Peterborough, who trail sixth place Doncaster by one point heading into the final day of the regular season.

The former Newcastle forward has become the second footballer racially assaulted on social media in less than a week.

Arsenal star Ainsley Maitland-Niles was branded a ‘stupid monkey’ on Instagram after he was sent off in the Gunners’ 3-0 defeat at Leicester on Sunday.

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In addition to those two incidents, Watford captain Troy Deeney disabled comments on his Instagram profile to avoid more racial abuse last month.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles: Arsenal star shares picture of racist abuse he received on social media

30 Apr

Arsenal star Ainsley Maitland-Niles has shared a picture of racist abuse he received on social media platform Instagram.

The Gunners right-back was sent off in the first-half of the club’s 3-0 defeat at Leicester on Sunday.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the latest black footballer to be targeted on social media

Arsenal’s third successive Premier League defeat has left their top four hopes in serious doubt. Unai Emery’s men are two points behind fourth place Chelsea with two games remaining.

And in an old Instagram post on Maitland-Niles’ profile which read, ‘We go again #coyg’, the youngster was racially abused by user @reda1011.

He wrote: “You are a stupid monkey get a red card VS Leicester, Arsenal will lose the competition because of your stupidity.”

Maitland-Niles decided to publicise the incident, sharing a screenshot of the abuse with his own comment reading: “When will the racism end? @reda1011 I wish you all the best in life mate.”

Maitland-Niles is one of many black players to be the victim of racial abuse on social media in recent weeks. Ashley Young, Troy Deeney and Wilfried Zaha have all been similarly targeted.

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Young was branded a ‘f****** n*****’ after Manchester United were dumped out of the Champions League by Barcelona, while Zaha was called a ‘diving monkey’ after winning a penalty in a win over Newcastle earlier this month.

And racial abuse forced Watford captain Troy Deeney to disable comments on his Instagram profile.

In December, Maitland-Niles revealed he had suffered racial abuse on a football pitch as a 12-year-old.

Asked if he had ever been racially targeted, he said: ”Yes I have. Not at the professional level, but growing up in the youth ranks.

“I was 12. I was at Arsenal at the time, it was an away trip to a German side I think.

“I reported it, but nothing was done about it. I guess I just had to move on from it and become stronger from that.”

Leicester City 3-0 Arsenal: Gunners boss Unai Emery ‘very proud’ of his players despite heavy defeat

28 Apr

Arsenal boss Unai Emery said he was ‘proud’ of his players despite suffering a heavy defeat at Leicester.

The Gunners’ hopes of reaching the top four suffered another blow with a 3-0 defeat at the King Power Stadium.

Arsenal couldn’t take advantage of Tottenham’s loss on Saturday

Youri Tielemans second-half opener and two late strikes from Jamie Vardy sealed the result.

Arsenal have been in wretched form over the past seven days which saw them lose at home to Crystal Palace and suffer a hammering at Wolves last Sunday and Wednesday respectively.

Speaking after the game, Emery said: “The players worked very well. I am very proud of them.

“And with one player less they continued our game plan and thinking first to be together.

“They were more defensively strong and in attacking moments we need to take our moment.

The course of the game changed when full-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sent off on 36 minutes for two bookable offences.

Maitland-Niles’ second yellow came for a late challenge on James Maddison and his first one was for a foul on Ben Chilwell.

Emery was fuming when Maitland-Niles was given his marching orders

But Emery had reservations about Maitland-Niles’ first booking which eventually led to his dismissal, making life more difficult for his players.

Emery added: “I don’t agree with the first yellow card.

“We were playing a lot of minutes of the match with one less player and it’s more difficult.

“Our game plan was working well. We know it was not easy to win but I was very happy when we were playing 11 against 11.

“But after the red card it gave us more difficulty in the match.”

Leicester City vs Arsenal: Gunners fans convinced they will finish outside top four as Ainsley Maitland-Niles sent off

28 Apr

Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sent off against Leicester City in the first half of the match at the King Power Stadium on Sunday.

Some Arsenal fans were left fearing they will finish outside the top four this season following the red card.

Michael Oliver shows Ainsley Maitland-Niles a red card
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The Gunners, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United are all battling it out for third and fourth position in the Premier League.

All four sides have slipped up in recent weeks with none seeming to make the most of the opportunities to grab Champions League football for next season.

Maitland-Niles leaves the pitch after being sent off
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Arsenal can temporarily go fourth with a draw or a win until Chelsea face United later in the day.

Unai Emery’s task of trying to get all three points at Leicester was made all the more difficult by Maitland-Niles’ red.

He was booked early on in the match for a foul on Ben Chilwell and then got a second booking after 36 minutes for a tackle on James Maddison.

Here is how some Arsenal fans reacted on Twitter to the sending off.

Not all Arsenal fans blamed Maitland-Niles for the card, though, as some felt referee Michael Oliver should not have produced the second yellow.

Arsenal starlet Ainsley Maitland-Niles is ‘next Gareth Bale’, Tony Cascarino says – ‘Sorry, Spurs fans’

22 Apr

Former Chelsea forward Tony Cascarino has apologised to Tottenham fans for discovering the ‘next Gareth Bale’… who just happens to play for Arsenal.

Cascarino, in his latest Times column, claims 21-year-old Gunners starlet Ainsley Maitland-Niles is showing all the same kind of traits as Bale did when he first joined Spurs in 2007.

Maitland-Niles has established himself as a valuable player under Unai Emery this season

He is, as Cascarino writes, ‘a full-back who is not really a full-back’, as Bale was in his early career.

Eventually Bale moved higher and higher up the pitch, ending up as an all-out forward – the position in which he became world class.

Maitland-Niles is naturally a midfielder, and he’s only been forced to play in defence due to the injury to Hector Bellerin. Nonetheless, he has impressed at right-back, and has also shown his versatility by playing on the left side of defence on occasion this season.

Having developed as a player in a more advanced position, Maitland-Niles loves to get forward, making him the perfect option for a modern full-back.

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And Cascarino did not hold back in his praise of the youngster.

“I saw the next Gareth Bale on Thursday,” he writes in the Times, “and he was wearing an Arsenal shirt.

“Sorry, Spurs fans.

“Ainsley Maitland-Niles is a full-back who is not really a full-back, just like Bale when he joined Tottenham in 2007. He has fierce pace and gets in great positions to score and create chances. He has improved hugely and has benefited from the injury to the first-choice right back Héctor Bellerín.

Bale began his career as a left-back before moving into an attacking position

“He is more of a wing back but could easily play in midfield too.”

Cascarino did offer a warning to Maitland-Niles, however, concerning the injuries that may occur due to his style of play.

“After a few recent injuries,” he continued, “the worry is that his explosive style may make him injury-prone, like Bale.”

Arsenal team news: Mesut Ozil to miss out? Predicted Gunners line-up for crucial Europa League clash at home to Napoli

11 Apr

Arsenal will be keen to bounce back from their weekend slump at Everton as they welcome Napoli to the Emirates Stadium in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final tie.

The Gunners were sloppy against the Toffees as they went down to a 1-0 defeat – putting a dent in their hopes of finishing in the top four.

Arsenal’s hopes of reaching the top four suffered a setback

However, winning the Europa League is another route into next season’s Champions League and given Unai Emery’s aptitude for this competition (winning it three years running at Sevilla 2014-16), Arsenal will certainly be taking this game very seriously.

But in order to reach the semi-finals, they must beat one of the favourites to win the competition in Napoli, who very nearly made it out of their Champions League group where they were pitted against Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool.

Emery is aware of the danger Napoli possess with world-class players including Manchester United target Kalidou Koulibaly and Dries Mertens.

Koulibaly and Mertens will be looking to end Arsenal’s Europa League campaign

In fact, Emery has said his side need to win the first leg especially due to Arsenal’s poor away record in the knockout stages this season which has seen them lose to BATE Borisov and Rennes.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is set for a recall to the Arsenal starting XI having only been on the bench for his side’s last two matches after being ill with a virus.

He looks set to join Alexandre Lacazette in attack while Mesut Ozil could miss out again with Aaron Ramsey set to return.

Juventus-bound Ramsey was only fit enough to play the second-half of their defeat at Goodison Park due to a groin problem.

Emery admits Arsenal need to win the first leg

Laurent Koscielny (foot) and Granit Xhaka (groin) face late fitness tests having not featured at the weekend.

So how might Arsenal line up for their first match against the Serie A giants? Below you can see talkSPORT.com’s predicted XI.

Is this the side Emery will field against the Neapolitans?

A 3-4-1-2 formation could be the tactics Emery goes for as he looks to go for the win but also have plenty of defenders back for Napoli’s dangerous attack.

Petr Cech starts in goal as he’s Arsenal’s cup keeper and he may well be joined by a defensive three of Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Kosicleny and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.

Meanwhile, wing-backs Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac will be able to support the defenders when the visitors are on the ball but will also give Arsenal width going forward.

The Gunners missed Granit Xhaka’s passing at Everton so if he’s fit enough, he is likely to play and Lucas Torreira is in contention to make a timely return in what is arguably Arsenal’s biggest game of the season so far.

Aaron Ramsey has performed well this season so will surely play and Emery could be tempted to play both Aubameyang and Lacazette as the two forwards work well together.

This means the inconsistent Mesut Ozil may miss out as defensive duties will be a requirement in this match and the No.10 just cannot be relied on to do that.

Could Ozil be dropped by Emery again?