|Chelsea Celebrating their Goal|
Chelsea perpetually seem on the brink of crisis, of losing a manager, of gaining the next one, arguing in training, arguing in finals sometimes. Yet out of chaos, comes order. This is their third major European trophy since 2012. In that time, 20 per cent of UEFA’s greatest prizes have gone back to Stamford Bridge.
This was an emphatic victory after a slow start, a vindication for coach Maurizio Sarri who now has a significant trophy on his c.v. as well as Champions League qualifications.
Maybe the knowledge that they were already in the big one next season helped Chelsea relax into the second-half here. Arsenal never regained the impetus of their better start, and the first goal, after 49 minutes, appeared to suck the confidence from them.
Within 15 minutes of that goal they trailed by three and although a riposte from Alex Iwobi afforded a flicker of hope for Arsenal, Chelsea’s fourth in the 72nd minute saw even more spaces opening up in Baku’s Olympic Stadium than could be seen at the start. And that was plenty, sad to say.
Unai Emery has not lost a Europa League tie since the 2012 semi-final with Valencia, but this was a bad time to break that run. It leaves Arsenal in Europe’s second tier competition for the third year running – with Manchester United and Wolves – a failure that cannot help but impact on their pulling power as Emery’s rebuild continues.
For Chelsea, it now remains to be seen whether they are interested enough to keep Sarri from the clutches of Juventus, whose owner could even be found in the team hotel prior to kick-off, and talking to Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck. He could have been discussing Champions League business but, even so – strange.
The elephant in the room, of course, is that this was a victory achieved with Eden Hazard, perhaps the last for Chelsea, and it only served to emphasise how much he will be missed. Without having the greatest game, he was their best player, scored twice – once from the penalty spot – and made another.
Basically, once he started firing – and it took a while – so did Chelsea and from that moment there was only one winner. It helps, too, that Olivier Giroud has been prolific in Europe this year – his 11 goals the most by one player for an English club since Alan Shearer for Newcastle in 2004-05. He started this rout, with the best goal of the night.