So the news has been released that Chelsea had sent back 4,000 of their 6,000 Europa League Final allocation and Arsenal have sent back 2,000 of theirs. My suspicion is that, were it a Champions League Final, both sides would have sold out, but the reality is that Baku would never have been handed the bigger final, due to the lack of numbers it can process through the city’s airport.
There’s no question the sheer expense is the main reason for the lack of take up. That only a limited number of flights can land in the hours before the match means that, in terms of travel, the law of supply and demand comes in. So premium prices are being asked for those that have decided to make the journey. And some of them may well be hanging around in Baku airport a long way into the following day, not having stayed in a hotel for the night to save on cost. Some will have seen their team lose and want to get out of the place as soon as possible, but face purgatory instead.
Mauritzio Sarri’s side are the clear favourites with Coral betting to lift the trophy (currently 4/6 with Arsenal at 6/5), but it was a similar situation for the game at Wembley. The bookies presumably favour Chelsea based on the poor European record of Arsenal in recent seasons, although this does not take account of Unai Emery’s incredible record in the competition, having won it three times with Sevilla before his move to Paris St Germain and the more testing ground of the Champions League.
The anytime scorer market has Eden Hazard as the 8/5 favourite to get a goal at some point in the game, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang a fraction longer at 13/8. His strike partner Alexandre Lacazette is 21/10. There’s little question that Hazard is Chelsea’s main attacking threat, and you’d be on fairly safe ground if you felt Arsenal were unable to keep a clean sheet, so both teams to score wouldn’t be the worst of bets. The Gunners’ chances of winning the trophy and the attendant reward of Champions League qualification will almost certainly be tied to how good a job they do of keeping Hazard quiet.
They did manage it when Chelsea visited the Emirates in the league this season and were defeated 2-0, and the last time the two sides met in a final, back in 2017, although they did concede, the Gunners were even bigger underdogs, Chelsea having just won the league. They were of course helped by the red card for Victor Moses after 68 minutes, but were already a goal up by that time.
There will be a lot more empty seats in Azerbaijan than there were at Wembley. Aside from the two clubs returning tickets, the sponsors have done the same with a sizeable number of their allocation being returned to UEFA. Given sponsor guests would be flying in from all over Europe, it gives you an idea how difficult it is to get to Baku, with guests presumably being offered free travel as part of the perk.
What may lift the atmosphere is the sheer number of Arsenal and Chelsea fans from Eastern Europe in the ‘neutral’ seats. We’ve seen big numbers of more ‘local’ fans in the Arsenal sections when the club has played in a country that was under Communist rule 30 years ago. Given the size of the match, many will make the journey to Baku, swelling the support. The only drawback is that they will be dotted around the stadium, although the sheer number of empty seats will probably allow them to congregate.
It’s hardly the best of venues to watch a football match as a stadium. Looks great from the outside, sure. And the capacity is big enough. But the athletics track surround is not going to do wonders for what atmosphere the two sets of fans manage to create. It’s going to be a strange final alright, but let’s just hope it’s one that Arsenal can win, with the stakes so high for the club. Another season without Champions League participation does not bear thinking about, and would have sever impact on what they can do to improve the squad this summer