Eden Hazard inspires Chelsea to Europa League glory at Arsenal’s expense
Hazard, who appears likely to leave for Real Madrid in the summer, scored twice for the Blues in Baku.
Eden Hazard bid a glorious farewell to Chelsea by netting a brace as Maurizio Sarri’s side roared past Arsenal to seal Europa League success in Azerbaijan.
Unai Emery was looking to continue his love affair with this competition and end the Gunners’ 25-year wait for continental success at the end of his maiden campaign in the dugout.
But Arsenal collapsed as a tepid first half made way for a memorable second period at the sparsely-filled Baku Olympic Stadium, where Chelsea manager Sarri masterminded a 4-1 win that brought his first major trophy.
Olivier Giroud impressively opened the scoring against his former club – his 11th goal in this season’s Europa League – but this was Hazard’s night.
It appears a case of when rather than if he swaps Stamford Bridge for Real Madrid and the Belgian magician was never likely to go quietly.
Hazard provided the assist for Pedro and soon got on the scoresheet himself, coolly scoring from the spot before putting the game to bed by sweeping home after a stunning Alex Iwobi strike briefly gave Arsenal hope.
Chelsea rained on the Gunners’ planned parade in some style as owner Roman Abramovich got to enjoy a successful end to a topsy-turvy season and the Hazard – and perhaps also Sarri – era.
The only disappointment for the west Londoners was that the pyrotechnics that followed captain Cesar Azpilicueta lifting the trophy were not complemented by more fans enjoying it.
Logistics and cost meant only a handful of Blues supporters were able to make the 5,000-mile round trip to Baku, where it felt more like a pre-season friendly in a far-flung destination than a major cup final in the first half.
“F*** off UEFA, is this what you want?” was heard early on, so too regular chants from the Arsenal end in support of Henrikh Mkhitaryan – the Armenian who decided against travelling to the final due to his country’s tensions with Azerbaijan.
There was little else of note in a tame opening lacking intensity and spark.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was guilty of snatching at an early shot after Kepa Arrizabalaga inexplicably punched a cross and the Chelsea goalkeeper got away with another wobble in the 18th minute.
Alexandre Lacazette was put through and the world’s most expensive goalkeeper appeared to clip the Arsenal forward’s feet in the box, yet referee Gianluca Rocchi and the video assistant referee saw nothing wrong.
Emery’s men were on top and Azpilicueta won an important header to cut out a cross, only for Granit Xhaka to unleash a fizzing shot from distance that skimmed the top of the bar.
Arsenal had further half chances to punish a sloppy Chelsea side that belatedly showed signs of life around the half-hour mark.
Emerson Palmieri saw an attempt blocked before his next was denied by retiring goalkeeper Petr Cech, who produced a far more impressive save when stopping a low Giroud attempt.
It was a shot across the bows that Arsenal failed to heed and saw them punished in the 49th minute.
Captain Laurent Koscielny swung his foot at Emerson’s fine, clipped cross, only to see Giroud beat him to the ball and direct a header low past Cech to put Chelsea ahead.
Things would soon get worse.
Hazard collected a lovely ball from Mateo Kovacic and Pedro peeled off to send home a scuffed effort that was quickly compounded.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was on the deck when Chelsea scored down his flank and was soon guilty of barging over Giroud in the box. Hazard stepped up and coolly slotted past Cech.
An exceptional thumping strike from Iwobi briefly had Arsenal dreaming, but the Blues had kicked into gear and were having fun.
Giroud was proving the scourge of his former club and this time provided the cross from which Hazard would net his second of the evening.
Cech denied the Belgian a hat-trick with a low save and the Chelsea onslaught continued, with Willian trying his luck before Azpilicueta flashed across the face of goal.
An amazing challenge from Andreas Christensen denied Aubameyang and Iwobi struck wide, but that would have only marginally softened this galling blow in Baku.
The victory was Chelsea’s and Hazard got to say goodbye in style.