Chelsea were crowned Europa League 2019 Champions in Baku last night after their second half performance proved more than enough to trump Arsenal in the first of two all-English European finals in the space of a few days. With the game yet to catch fire by half time, in what can only described as an odd atmosphere in Baku, a stooping Olivier Giroud near post header gave Chelsea an advantage that they never looked like relinquishing thereafter.
In another defensive and seemingly mental capitulation from Arsenal, Chelsea scored three times in the space of sixteen second half minutes, leaving the extremely loyal Arsenal fans, who had made the arduous and expensive trip to the final, shell shocked. A superb strike from sub Alex Iwobi gave Arsenal hope of another miraculous comeback by an English club this season however their hopes were soon squashed when Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard combined for Hazard to score his second of the evening in what looks to be his last game for the club.
In a frantically open finish only some efficient goalkeeping and wasteful striking at both ends kept the score down to anywhere near normal for a game of this magnitude. However, Chelsea still ran out more than comfortable winners in a game that should in theory have meant a lot more to their opponents than it seemed to. As in the late night heat of a far away country, Arsenal’s players once again wilted, away from the safe ground of The Emirates.
Chelsea, particularly Hazard and Giroud, were ruthless in their finishing however Emery and his side yet again failed to perform away from London when it really mattered. After essentially handing Chelsea the top four in the final month of the domestic season, they again were unable to cope with falling behind in a high profile game. A 4-1 defeat away from home comforts versus a big rival should be an anomaly for any side but for Arsenal it has almost become the expectation. Something that Emery will have to address swiftly if he is to remain as Arsenal boss beyond next season.
The problem he faces may be whether to focus on changing the personnel at the club or the mentality of his current crop of players. With finances still apparently spread thin, it seems unlikely he will have the financial muscle to upheave his current squad, yet many will assert that is exactly what is needed. Their continually leaky defence aside, many in Arsenal red will again point the finger at the likes of Mesut Ozil ,who as one of the highest paid players in the premiership, again did very little to warrant such weekly reward. With his side 3-1 down and still in the game he decided to slowly trudge off the pitch when being substituted perhaps showcasing his lack of intensity when it comes to his responsibilities as one the club’s higher profile players. And quite frankly, you cannot sulk like that if you perform like Ozil often has for this club in big games of late.
As for Chelsea, after what been a truly turbulent season for a number of reasons, Maurizio Sarri’s first year as boss must now be seen a real success. Third in the league, two finals and a European trophy is really all that Chelsea fans could have hoped for this term and they have it. Of course when it comes to Chelsea football club, it’s never that simple, as the future of their manager is still daily fodder for many a journalist. Though surely few would disagree with Sarri’s assessment that he ‘deserves to stay’. With Juventus lurking in the background, it might be time for the Chelsea board to actually fully back a manager regardless of whether he still splits opinion amongst their fan base or not. With it still unclear whether Chelsea can delay an incoming transfer ban and with what seems like the ever certain departure of Eden Hazard, the club needs a foundation to work from. A quiet, productive summer not a headline-filled, messy one.
And even in the midst of an historic victory for Chelsea, one of the main stories of last night was Hazard’s emotional admission that he ‘thinks it’s goodbye’ in regard to his future at the club. After seven years of service, that have not always been fruitful for both Hazard and the club, few would begrudge him his dream move to Real Madrid at the age of twenty-eight. And in truth after bagging two goals and an assist in a European final versus a London rival there will likely never be a better time for Hazard to call time on what has been a legendary Chelsea career.
Though of course it remains to be seen how Chelsea will cope without him as a legion of loaned out talent plus Christian Pulisic make their way to Stamford Bridge, ready to serve under whichever manager happens to be in place come August. Yet for now the club will surely revel in the fact they have turned what has been quite a toxic season at times into a step forward that could be built on, if it is allowed to be built on that is.
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