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.
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