Chelsea have capped a tumultuous season by holding aloft the Europa League cup in Baku thanks to a masterclass from Eden Hazard, in what was likely his last appearance for the Stamford Bridge outfit.
After a tense first half, Chelsea scored four goals in 23 second-half minutes to take the trophy, and end Arsenal’s hopes of playing in the Champions League next season.
An opportunistic Olivier Giroud opened the scoring in the 49th minute with his 11th goal of his Europa League campaign, scoring against his former club, with a fantastic diving header that broke the deadlock.
After the goal Arsenal were quick to respond, applying pressure to the Chelsea goal, however, it was Pedro who would score again for Chelsea in the 60th minute, leaving Arsenal a mountain to climb.
The result was put to bed in the 65th minute when Eden Hazard converted a penalty, the result of a clumsy tackle that saw Giroud bundled over in the box.
A stunning strike from outside the box by Alex Iwobi in the 69th minute gave Arsenal something of a lifeline, however any thoughts of a comeback were extinguished when Hazard scored his second of the game just three minutes later, restoring Chelsea’s three goal cushion over the Gunners.
For Hazard, it was a Man of the Match performance, in what will most likely be his final appearance in a blue shirt before the Belgian makes an anticipated move to Real Madrid.
“We will decide in a few days and the only target in my mind was to win this final,” Hazard said. “I have made my decision already and now I’m waiting on both clubs. I think it is a goodbye, but in football you never know.
“My dream was to play in the Premier League and I have done that for one of the biggest clubs so maybe now it is the time for a new challenge.”
With a sluggish start to the game owing to an 11pm local time kick off, Hazard was proud of how his teammates improved their performance in the second half, adding “It was good. I think both teams were playing with a bit of stress with it being a final, but when Olivier [Giroud] scored it was the beginning of a great night.
“We played well and controlled the game and I’m happy to leave this trophy with the boys. The manager said to carry on playing football at the break and today we showed this mentality.”
For Chelsea Manager Maurizio Sarri, winning the Europa League also gets a monkey off his back, as the Italian has finally landed his first piece of silver wear in his managerial career. The former Napoli boss was coy about his future, saying “The season finished one hour ago. Tomorrow, I will begin to speak to my club. We need to speak, of course. We need to know what the club can do for me, what I can do better for the club. I think that also the club needs to speak with me.”
For Sarri’s opposite number Unai Emery, there will be a few sleepless nights ahead as the Spaniard contemplates failing to qualify for the Champions League after an abject performance on the big stage.
“First is congratulations to Chelsea. In the first half we played with good opportunities to take a good result. We got to the box with good options and chances to score but the first goal changed the game.
“We tried to stay in the match but their second goal made it difficult for us. It was going better for them and when we wanted to do something, we couldn’t find what we needed to score. They deserved to win,” said Emery.
While the Europa League showpiece in Baku lacked some of the feeling and emotion of a big cup final, it will serve as a fitting farewell for Hazard, who, if he leaves Chelsea after seven years, will do so having helped the club win two Premier League trophies, one FA Cup, one League Cup, and now two Europa League titles.