Yet, somehow, it works. A club that seems perpetually on the brink of crisis, of losing a manager, of gaining the next one, arguing in training, arguing in finals sometimes: yet out of chaos comes order.
This is Chelsea’s third major European trophy since 2012. In that time, 20 per cent of UEFA’s greatest prizes have gone to Stamford Bridge. How they do it, amidst what many would regard as turmoil, nobody can be sure.
Eden Hazard scored two goals, made another. Almost certainly, he’s leaving for Real Madrid. Maurizio Sarri won the first major trophy of his coaching career, to go with restoring the club to the Champions League in his first season beyond Italian football. By all accounts, he could quite possibly be leaving, too.
Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-1 in Baku, Azerbaijan, thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud, Pedro and a brace from Eden Hazard
Giroud broke the deadlock in the second half, stooping low and converting a header to give Chelsea the lead
Giroud’s effort had too much pace on it for Petr Cech, who was unable to turn the ball away from the goal in time
Pedro swiftly doubled Chelsea’s advantage, sweeping home after clever work out wide by Eden Hazard
Pedro and Hazard led the Chelsea celebrations after leaving Arsenal reeling from two quick goals at the Olympic Stadium
Chelsea: Arrizabalaga, Azpilicueta, Christensen, Luiz, Emerson Palmieri, Kante, Jorginho, Kovacic (Barkley, 76) Pedro (Willian, 71), Giroud, Hazard (Zappacosta, 89).
Subs not used: Caballero, Cumming, Alonso, Higuain, Cahill, Ampadu, Gallagher, McEachran.
Goals: Giroud 49, Pedro 60, Hazard 65, 72.
Arsenal: Cech, Papastathopoulos, Koscielny, Monreal (Guendouzi, 66), Maitland-Niles, Torreira (Iwobi, 67) Xhaka, Kolasinac, Lacazette, Ozil (Willock, 77), Aubameyang.
Subs not used: Leno, Iliev, Elneny, Lichtsteiner, Iwobi, Mustafi, Welbeck, Jenkinson, Nketiah, Saka.
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi
The owner of Juventus, Sarri’s suitors, was photographed at Chelsea’s hotel prior to this game, in discussions with chairman Bruce Buck. They could have been talking Champions League and UEFA business. Even so, bizarre.
Yet, somehow, it works. Despite these noises off, when it mattered, Chelsea swept Arsenal off the pitch at Baku’s Olympic Stadium.
After a slow start, they found their game and from that point there was only one winner. The Premier League table suggests Chelsea are a better team than Arsenal, and so did this, the first all-London European final.
Certainly, Arsenal do not possess a player in Hazard’s class or a group with Chelsea’s desire for the fight. They can be a capricious lot and they have let managers down — including Sarri, at times — but no English club collects trophies as Chelsea have done in the Roman Abramovich era. In the last eight European seasons they have won more major UEFA titles than Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Juventus, AC Milan and Liverpool — royalty, all — put together.
And they are the first team to win the Europa League in its present, exhausting, Thursday night format without losing a game.
Much of the credit for that must go to Sarri. If Unai Emery could organise his Arsenal defence with the same efficiency, he wouldn’t have lost his first Europa League tie since the semi-final with Valencia in 2012.
It was a bad day for that run to end, too. Chelsea had already qualified for the Champions League through league position, but Arsenal needed this to make the leap. In the end, they looked crushed by the challenge of it and will join Manchester United and Wolves in Europe’s second tier.
Once Chelsea got ahead, Arsenal crumbled. They went a goal down after 49 minutes and 15 minutes later trailed by three.
Hazard then marked his display with a goal through one of his trademark penalties that sent Cech the wrong way
Alex Iwobi momentarily gave Arsenal a glimmer of hope with a sensational volley from the edge of the penalty area
Kepa was left helpless as Iwobi’s thunderbolt flew into the far corner and gave Arsenal hope of a fightback
But Hazard then scored his second and Chelsea’s fourth by rounding off a sweeping attack to make the game safe
Giroud points to his team-mate during the celebrations as Hazard’s double took the game away from Arsenal
Hazard’s double ensured Chelsea finish the season with a trophy in what will likely be his last game for the club
Having Hazard helps. That he had such an influence on this game, while it probably wasn’t in his top 30 for the club — maybe not his top 10 this season — only served to emphasise how much he will be missed. He had an ordinary first half, became more of an influence shortly before half-time and then ran the game from there.
He was Chelsea’s best player. Basically, once he started firing so did Chelsea and that has been true of so many games, even seasons, that his impending absence can only be a source of worry, no matter the financial compensation.
Less talismanic, but no less influential on this campaign, was Olivier Giroud. He has been prolific in Europe this year — his 11 goals the most by one player for an English club since Alan Shearer for Newcastle in 2004-05. He started this rout, too, with the best goal of the night.
It came four minutes after half-time, and a largely forgettable first half. Chelsea had ended it stronger and momentum was building.
Equally, Arsenal’s defence is poor and has looked vulnerable at key moments in the season. So it was here. Emerson hit a low, flat cross from the left and Giroud got in front of Laurent Koscielny far too easily to direct a lovely stooping header past Petr Cech.
Koscielny has been Arsenal’s best defender of recent years, but his reputation is undoubtedly elevated by the weakness around him. It was Giroud’s first goal against his former club and he would have found it considerably harder against more resilient opposition.
Cech, starting his final match as a professional, had earlier made a brilliant low save to deny Giroud in the first half
Giroud let fly from the edge of the penalty area but Arsenal goalkeeper Cech got across well to turn the ball away
Emerson went close in one of Chelsea’s best first-half chances, with Cech beating away his fierce strike in the penalty area
Granit Xhaka went close to giving Arsenal the lead when his long range rocket whistled narrowly over the crossbar
Worse followed. In the 60th minute, Mateo Kovacic played the ball out to Hazard on the left and he cut it back for Pedro, unmarked just 12 yards from goal. He didn’t get the cleanest connection on his shot but it scuffed and bobbled its way past Cech and into the far corner. Going, going…
Gone. It was a pity for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, the only Englishman in the starting line-ups, that he should give away a clumsy penalty for a foul on Giroud, but he did, so there it is. Hazard stepped up and passed the ball into the net, to the left, with Cech going the wrong way.
After a fine Alex Iwobi shot from outside the area had conjured thoughts of another amazing comeback by an English team in Europe, Chelsea rallied to crush that fantasy. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang lost the ball cheaply in midfield, Hazard found Giroud, made good ground for the return, then tapped it into the net from close range.
The pity is there were so few of their own fans here to see it. Baku is no location for a match of this magnitude and Chelsea had returned even more tickets than Arsenal. As a result, the occasion bore no resemblance to a European final aside from the overarching suspicion that it had been planned and choreographed by folk with absolutely no feeling for football at all.
From the rows of empty seats, to the paucity of genuine travelling support, to the giant bowl of a stadium that looks so impressive from the motorway but is cold and soulless once inside — this cannot be considered anything less than a significant failure by UEFA.
Alexandre Lacazette was sent tumbling by a challenge from Kepa but a penalty was not awarded to Arsenal
Midfielder N’Golo Kante was passed fit to play for Chelsea, despite doubts over his fitness because of a knee injury
Hazard was subdued in the first half during what is widely expected to be his last appearance for Chelsea
The last hope was that, if English fans had rejected Baku as a venue, at least the locals would be engaged. Not so. This was far from a sell-out, with significant vacancies even in those areas plainly reserved for Azeri sales.
And while UEFA have been desperately playing down rejection by the wider football family — sponsors, as the rest of the world knows them — it didn’t feel as corporately supported as previous finals.
Cities become madhouses when the biggest matches come to town. In Baku yesterday it was pretty much business as usual. At the local metro in the early evening, still some hours before kick-off, there was none of the usual buzz, no sight of fans milling around in anticipation as usual.
Early evening, many more people were heading away from the arena for the commute home than were being drawn to it. And after 45 minutes they appeared the smart ones.
Ultimately, Arsenal froze. Maybe the pressure of needing this to reach the Champions League was too much, maybe containing Hazard was simply beyond them. Either way, the inescapable conclusion is that they are some way off England’s elite, let alone Europe’s.
As for Sarri, he now has options. Juventus will be impressed, but his current employers should be, too. At the end the heroic smoker produced a large cigar from his pocket, showing it proudly to his celebrating colleagues. He looked ready to light it in that instant; he looked ready to light about five of them.
And so he should. Third place, Champions League football and a European trophy is an excellent first season. Now try doing it without Hazard. He’ll deserve all the Montecristos in Havana if he can pull that one off.
Kepa flapped at a cross at his near post in the opening exchanges but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spurned the rebound
Arsenal striker Aubameyang drilled the resulting opportunity wide as they looked to gain an early foothold over Chelsea
There were swathes of empty seats around the Olympic Stadium in Baku, with fans struggling to make the long journey
But Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich was one of the spectators in the crowd to see his side in action for the final
Original article: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-7083893/Chelsea-4-1-Arsenal-Eden-Hazard-leads-Maurizio-Sarris-men-Europa-League-glory.html?ns_mchannel=rss&ito=1490&ns_campaign=1490