Eden Hazard scores 2 as Chelsea dumps Arsenal to win Europa League
Baku, Azerbaijan — If this was goodbye for Eden Hazard and Maurizio Sarri, then it was a stylish farewell.
For Petr Cech, it was the worst way to retire.
Hazard scored twice past his former teammate as Chelsea sliced through Arsenal in the second half of the Europa League final on Wednesday, netting four times in the space of 23 minutes to win 4-1 in a London derby played far from home.
The Belgian then confirmed that he is likely to leave the club this summer, amid widespread speculation about a move to Real Madrid.
“I think it is a goodbye but in football you never know,” Hazard said. “My dream was to play in the Premier League. I did this for seven years for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Maybe it’s time for a new challenge.”
After a drab first half, Chelsea took control in the 49th minute when Olivier Giroud met Emerson’s pass with a diving header into the net. It was the French striker’s 11th goal in 14 games in the Europa League this season, but he barely celebrated against his old team, kneeling with palms raised as his teammates mobbed him.
Pedro doubled the lead when he found space in the penalty area in the 60th to stroke in a cut-back pass from Hazard. It was soon 3-0 when Hazard converted a penalty after Ainsley Maitland-Niles – the only English player to start the all-English final – shoved Giroud in the box.
Two minutes after coming off the bench, Alex Iwobi punished Chelsea for a poor clearance with a volley from the edge of the box to make it 3-1 in the 69th.
But Arsenal’s hopes of a comeback were extinguished three minutes later when Hazard and Giroud teamed up again. Hazard first passed the ball to Giroud and then knocked his flicked cross past Cech, the veteran goalkeeper who was playing his final game before retiring.
Facing the team where he spent his best years – and is expected to return this summer in an administrative role – Cech made good saves from Hazard and substitute Willian to stop Chelsea increasing its lead yet further.
It was the first trophy for Sarri, the Chelsea coach who did not rule out leaving the club Tuesday when asked about the vacant Juventus coach job, after falling out with sections of the club’s fans.
It was the first Europa League final to have the video referee system, but referee Gianluca Rocchi never made use of it. That aggrieved Arsenal’s players and fans early on when Alexandre Lacazette collided with Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga but no penalty was given.
With several thousand empty seats and only around 6,000 fans from England, the atmosphere in the stadium struggled to match that of a typical European final.
Arsenal and Chelsea fans had complained of the high cost of travel from Western Europe, and even though locals and fans from elsewhere in the world made up the numbers, the atmosphere was subdued, even flat. Livening up the Baku Olympic Stadium will be a tricky task for Azerbaijani’s organizers for the four European Championships game it hosts next year.