Eden Hazard didn’t make it any easier for Chelsea to let go of him this summer as his scintillating display in the Europa League final steered them to an emphatic 4-1 victory over Arsenal.
Negotiations between Chelsea and Real Madrid are reportedly well under way for the Belgian’s move to the Bernabeu while a brace and assist was the perfect way to say goodbye after Olivier Giroud got the ball rolling four minutes into the second half.
Pedro latched onto Hazard’s pass for the second on the hour mark before the 28-year-old got in on the action when he converted a penalty after Giroud was felled.
Alex Iwobi scored with a sumptuous strike with 20 minutes to go but Hazard’s second capped off a thrilling individual performance and put the tie beyond the Gunners.
The Europa League organisers would’ve been thrilled when Arsenal and Chelsea made it to the final. Perpetually functioning in the shadow of its more illustrious sister competition, the fact that its finale would feature two teams with a substantial global following was a big win.
But of course, the venue seemed to negate all of that. There were widespread complaints of the various issues Baku posed as the site for the final, from the distance to the airport to the lack of tickets made available to fans, added to the fact Arsenal were forced to leave Henrikh Mkhitaryan behind out of concern for his safety as an Armenian due to political tensions.
As feared, those factors conspired to produce an underwhelming atmosphere at the Baku Olympic Stadium. The empty seats in the stands seemed to affect the action on the pitch with the first half in particular being a drab affair. It was an atmosphere more fitting of a pre-season friendly.
Even while five goals flew in during the second half, the ambience maintained its peculiar flatness. It was more fascination at an exhibition game than sheer ecstasy from passionate fans.
ARSENAL’S OL BOY
When a striker faces his former side, there’s always an air of inevitability of him getting on the score sheet. Giroud furthered that cliche when he netted the opener for Chelsea. Often favoured over Gonzalo Higuain for his ability to draw the best out of Hazard with his link-up play, the Frenchman’s goal-scoring ability was also on show this time.
He made the most of a flat cross from Emerson to directed his stooping header brilliantly past Petr Cech and inside the near post under pressure from Laurent Koscielny. His haunting of his former employers didn’t stop there though.
Giroud then drew a clumsy foul from Ainsley Maitland-Niles for Hazard to covert from the spot for the third before setting up the Belgian superbly for the fourth.
Olivier Giroud is the first player to score against a former club in a UEFA Cup/Europa League final since Dino Baggio scored both goals in Parma's 2-1 aggregate win v Juventus in 1995 pic.twitter.com/eZ7hAX5tE4— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) May 29, 2019
EDEN HAZ A FOND FAREWELL
Chelsea may have been beneficiaries of Hazard’s brilliance for one last time. If this was the playmaker’s swansong – in his post-match comments he indicated that ‘he thinks it’s a goodbye’ – then he didn’t disappoint.
Even during an uneventful first half, he provided some excitement whenever he got on the ball. All his class came to the fore in the second period though. After setting up Pedro cleverly for the second goal, he showed great composure to send Cech the wrong way and roll the ball home from the penalty spot for the third.
Just when substitute Iwobi scored spectacularly to lift Arsenal, Hazard extinguished any hopes of a comeback when he capped his sublime link-up play with Giroud with an appropriately elegant finish.
When asked about his future after the game, Hazard spoke of how grateful he is to the club but reiterated his desire for a new challenge, insisting that it’s all up to the negotiations between Chelsea and Madrid now.
If this was the last time he pulled on a blue shirt, it would’ve only added to the fond memories he’s given the fans over the course of seven years. A fitting farewell.
MESUT MISSING AGAIN
While Chelsea fans may have to bid Hazard goodbye this summer with heavy hearts, some sections of the Arsenal would love to see the back of Mesut Ozil.
On ability, the German should be in the same bracket as his Chelsea counterpart but he only furthered his reputation as an elite player who consistently fails to deliver in big games.
Mkhitaryan’s absence in Baku has naturally dominated headlines but on the pitch it was Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey that Arsenal missed the most. In many ways, the injured Welshman is the antithesis of Ozil. His stunning work-rate and relentless nature often serves to highlight the German playmaker’s shortcomings.
Two goals and an assist to deliver a 4-1 victory over rivals Arsenal in Baku was the perfect parting gift from the man widely tipped to join Real Madrid this season, after seven successful seasons for the Blues.
Here’s a closer look at his star turn.
Goals – 2
Assists – 1
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 3
Dribbles – 5
Chances created – 6
Hazard started in his familiar left-wing berth, but in the first half he was well-marshalled by Arsenal right-back Ashley Maitland-Niles. Yet he remained a constant threat and he burst into life after the break, setting up Pedro with a lovely assist, converting a penalty, and then finishing off a one-two with Olivier Giroud.
The Chelsea No 10 had as many dribbles (5) as the second and third-best Chelsea players in that category on the night combined.
Hazard’s willingness to do the dirty work stood out. The simple move of getting into his own half and then putting his body in front of a wayward ball, shielding it to earn a foul or set himself for a run, worked time and again for his team.
The pass to set up Pedro showed what Hazard is all about. Lesser players would have settled for the obvious ball to Giroud that would have left the Frenchman facing a tight shooting angle. Instead he waited for the play to develop, and then found Pedro.
Hazard ended the game having created six chances, more than anyone else.
Eden Hazard on his Chelsea future: "Yeah, I think it's a goodbye. But you never know in football. My dream was to play in the Premier League and I've done that for seven lovely years." pic.twitter.com/SJ9Q764Xp2— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 29, 2019
Drifted out of the game in the first half
Though he’d seen plenty of the ball in the first half and showed some neat touches, he managed to do very little with it. Indeed, the standout player of the first half was the man matched up directly against him, Maitland-Niles.
However, there were signs towards the end of the half that Hazard was finding his best, and that’s exactly what happened after the break.
“I think it’s a goodbye.” So said Hazard in his post-match interview – no one was fooled by the “in football, you never know” that followed – and if this was indeed goodbye, he couldn’t have said it in a better way.
That’s two straight seasons that a Chelsea season has ended with their Belgian talisman scoring in a victorious cup final, so the big-game flop narrative should be put to bed. And he’s a two-time European winner now. Real Madrid are getting one of the best in the world.
RATING – 9/10
Eden Hazard had his fingerprints all over a majestic Chelsea performance in what is likely to be his last appearance for the club, as the Blues destroyed their London rivals Arsenal 4-1 in the Europa League final.
After a rather drab first half, Olivier Giroud, Hazard and Pedro combined to devastating effect against a hapless Arsenal.
Giroud’s brilliant diving header kicked things off, Pedro’s smart finish doubled proceedings while Hazard scored a penalty and swept in another.
Alex Iwobi’s wonder strike off the bench didn’t give Gunners even a hint of hope as Unai Emery’s side floundered in Baku.
Here are our Arsenal ratings …
Petr Cech – Wonderful save from Giroud in the first half was fitting stop on last outing, the lack of silverware sadly wasn’t. Faultless for goals 7
Sokratis – The best of a bad bunch in defence, made a few interventions but just didn’t have the physical tools to cope 6
Laurent Koscielny – Beaten by Giroud’s wonderful header but not tight enough. That he’s captain speaks for how average Arsenal are 5
Nacho Monreal – Makeshift centre-back putting in a makeshift performance, can hardly blame him for this poor show 5
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – One of the few fine sights for Arsenal was when the wing-back rampaged up right. Clueless foul for penalty 5
Lucas Torreira – Rottweiler that had a nip here or there but was more or less kept on a leash by Chelsea 6
Granit Xhaka – Unleashed a strike that made you cringe from wherever you’re seated. Didn’t impose himself elsewhere 5
Sead Kolasinac – Afforded lots of space, particularly in the first half, but made poor use of it. Defensively non-existent 4
Mesut Ozil – There were questions this week whether Arsenal had failed Ozil, or Ozil failed Arsenal. Distinctly the latter on Wednesday night 3
Alexandre Lacazette – His attempt to round Kepa was his best chance. Why didn’t he stay on his feet? Not at his best 5
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – Snatched at an early chance with Kepa out of position, didn’t hear a peep out of him after 4
Matteo Guendouzi (66′) – Did nothing to turn the tide as the blue wave washed over Arsenal 5
Alex Iwobi (67′) – There are super subs and then there are silly subs – Iwobi’s strike was ridiculously good 8
Joe Willock (77′) – The story was more about Ozil being replaced by a teenager in a European final. Showed a bit more fire than the German 6