Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
There are more than a few parallels to be drawn between Arsenal and Chelsea this season. Both teams are hoping to recover from a 2017/18 campaign that saw them finish outside the top four, both teams have new managers in Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri, and both teams are adapting to the ways and methods of those new managers. But when it comes to the Europa League, there has been a differing approach.
Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri are very different people, but in their coaching ideologies there is significant crossover. Both managers demand a certain discipline from their players. It’s not a discipline in the traditional sense, but in the way they use space, when to push forward and when to absorb. It borrows a lot from Pep Guardiola’s famed philosophy.
This required re-education, even for elite players Arsenal and Chelsea boast. Emery has swapped and switched between various members of his squad over the first few months of his tenure, and this has been clearest in the Europa League. Take the 1-0 away win over Sporting Lisbon two weeks ago, for instance, when Danny Welbeck started over Alexandre Lacazette and Lucas Torreira sat on the bench.
However, Emery still stuck with a large percentage of his first choice team, mixing in peripheral figures, presumably to rest some players, but also to induct these figures into his ideology. That could serve Arsenal well further down the line, particularly over the packed festive schedule, if injuries or suspensions start to hit their team.
Sarri has taken a different approach. He has fielded a distinctly second string side throughout the Europa League so far, giving the likes of Gary Cahill, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Olivier Giroud, among others, game time. Meanwhile, in the Premier League, Sarri makes very few changes to his starting lineup. Only through necessity does rotation occur.
This is in line with what Sarri did at Napoli. For all the success enjoyed by the San Paolo club during his time there, the squad wasn’t always harmonious, with fringe players frustrated at the lack of opportunities thrown their way. The same thing is now happening at Chelsea, with the likes of Cahill, Loftus-Cheek and Giroud seemingly undervalued by their new manager. Sarri is taking a risk by placing his faith in such a select group.
For both Arsenal and Chelsea, the Europa League is not a priority this season. But their approach to the competition matters in a wider sense. Both Emery and Sarri are charged with instilling a new mentality at their respective clubs, but their Europa League selections so far hint at contrasting methods of doing this.