LONDON: Unai Emery’s first season at Arsenal will be judged a success or failure depending on the outcome of a single game — the Europa League final against Chelsea — but the Spaniard has a habit of saving his best for Europe’s second-tier competition.
Emery won the Europa League three years in a row between 2014 and 2016 when at Sevilla and would become the most decorated coach in the competition’s history with another victory in Baku.
However, it is not only a first European trophy for 25 years at stake for Arsenal, but also a much-needed return to the riches of the Champions League after a two-season absence that will make or break the impression of Emery’s debut campaign.
Arsenal’s preparations for the final have been dogged by off-field issues over the awarding of the final to the Azerbaijani capital.
Many fans have been priced out of making the near-5,000-mile (8,000-kilometre) round trip, while Emery’s team selection has also been affected, with midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan deciding not to travel on safety grounds due to political tensions between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan.
However, Emery shrugged off suggestions Arsenal could even consider boycotting the match, and is determined that those distractions do not impact on his side by the time kick-off comes on Wednesday.
“We have the chance to win a title and play in the Champions League next season,” said Emery. “All of this is much more important than where we are going to play the final.
“It’s not possible with Mkhi, yes. It’s not possible with the fans like we want, yes. But the final is very important.”
Chelsea do not have the added pressure of Champions League qualification resting on the outcome of the final, having edged ahead of Emery’s faltering side in the final weeks of the Premier League season to finish third.