Arsenal pay heavy penalty for ignoring Hazard warning lights in half-baked Baku
Eden Hazard battered Arsenal in Baku to give Chelsea a perfect farewell gift in the Europa League final and perhaps a hint of better times ahead for Real Madrid, writes Desmond Kane.
Holding Baku the tears. A distraught Lucas Torreira, Arsenal's enlivened Uruguayan midfielder, slumped onto the bench, dropped his head to his chest and began bubbling seconds after he was replaced by Alex Iwobi with his side falling 3-0 behind bitter London foes Chelsea just after the hour-mark of a one-sided Europa League final.
Perhaps the lip trembled because he realised he still had to make it back to London from the Baku of beyond. Or perhaps because he knew his side had managed to embarrassingly flatline in European football's second biggest final. At least someone in red seemed to care enough amid the horrific realisation they had blown it. Second chances remain rare at this level when you consider Arsenal's last key continental final was losing to Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League denouement.
At least Torreira and his companions will have plenty of time to pore over what befell them in Baku after embarking upon the several arduous hours of overnight and daytime flying back to London. Others wept with them at a greater cost. Certainly in terms of inordinate travelling, ticket expenses and emotional torture.
Mainly teary Arsenal fans, young and old, who had travelled by plane, train and automobile to touch down 2,500 miles from London before watching their listless side lowered into the ground by Chelsea's speed of mind and movement in the second half. It was Eden Hazard who went on the rampage while the self-harming Gunners preferred to blow their own feet off in subscribing fully to a 4-1 gutting.
Chelsea are likely to lose the wonderful attacking threat of the Belgian bullet Hazard, who has never hidden his desire to join Real Madrid. At the age of 28, he will depart having completed his Chelsea opus in style: two Premier Leagues, two Europa Leagues, an FA Cup and a League Cup is a fitting haul over seven years for one of the modern game's true greats. Purchased from £32m from Lille in 2012, he deserves to be mentioned alongside Gianfranco Zola as a genuine Chelsea entertainer who brought light to the soul of Stamford Bridge. Which is saying something.
Hazard was utterly magnificent in all he did despite Arsenal's torpor, and deserved a better finale than a stadium touching more of Asia than Europe, and riddled with empty spaces.
51,370 apparently washed up for a final in a stadium that can hold 68,700. It was disgraceful more Chelsea fans never got the chance to wish Hazard a proper farewell. UEFA should reconsider the merits of choosing host cities months before such finals, but at least Hazard enjoyed being east of Eden.
Eden Hazard celebrates with the Europa League.Eurosport
Two goals, some terrific touches, technique and genuine pace left Arsenal dying in their boots.
"We will decide in a few days and the only target in my mind was to win this final," said Hazard. "I have made my decision already and now I'm waiting on both clubs.
"I think it is a goodbye, but in football you never know.
"My dream was to play in the Premier League and I have done that for one of the biggest clubs so maybe now it is the time for a new challenge. "
If Hazard was habitually glorious, supported by the habitually industrious N'Golo Kante, Arsenal cajoler-in-chief Mesut Ozil disappeared with a whimper, again flattering to deceive with an impotent, irate output. He sported a listless shirt, but one highly symbolic of his team-mates. It is surely time for Arsenal and Ozil to part company this summer because there is clearly better value for money to be had elsewhere.
It is difficult to know what was poorer in this final: the atmosphere or Arsenal? Take your pick because nobody else is likely to. Certainly not the half-baked locals in Baku's Olympic Stadium, a ground built for athletics rather than the world game.
A dejected Mesut Ozil of Arsenal after losing the UEFA Europa League Final between Chelsea and Arsenal at Baku Olimpiya Stadionu on May 29, 2019 in Baku.Eurosport
A camera angle that looked to be taken by the hubble telescope could not hide the bitter truth for Arsenal so far from home: this was a team that capitulated in the capital of Azerbaijan.
Unai Emery's side collapsed in the Premier League when they finished a dispirited fifth after flirting with the top four. Their season was hopelessly rounded off by this butchering in Baku.
There will be no Champions League return for Arsenal under Emery next season, who will reflect on his first season at the Emirates with a sense of bitter regret despite reaching a level of final that should always be within their grasp. At least he is not the Chelsea manager. Otherwise he would be as well staying in the football outpost of Baku, whose hosting of Euro 2020 next summer is a choice that could have been cooked up over lunch in Wetherspoons
Sarri enjoys the moment - Europa League 2018/2019 - Getty ImagesGetty Images
Olivier Giroud, a lumbering menace to his old team, stooped to beat Laurent Koscielny before diverting a header into the corner of the rigging. Hazard then set up Pedro to slot a shot into the corner of the net for a 2-0 lead.
Iwobi produced a quite magical finish from distance that was Arsenal's lasting contribution to the evening, but Chelsea were not finished as Hazard added a fourth from a delightful Giroud ball with Arsenal marking fresh air in an arena saturated with wide open spaces.
Even though this felt like a pre-season game, it reminded you a bit of some of those soulless Premier League contests in the Melbourne MCG during the winter Down Under, it was deadly serious.
Chelsea celebrate with the Europa League trophyPA Sport
'Sarri-Ball' is dead, long live 'Sarri-Ball'.
"I love the Premier League and I'm lucky I'm at Chelsea but at the end of each season you have to sit down and talk," said the former Napoli martinet after winning his first major prize. "In my opinion, I deserve to stay at Chelsea but my opinion is not enough."
This has been another significant season for Chelsea, a club where the demands are at times unfeasibly high.
If Chelsea are underperforming, Arsenal would love to have a piece of what their London rivals deem unsatisfactory. As a club, Chelsea remain serial silverware lifters even in their moments of apparent glumness.
Under the Russian owner Roman Abramovich, this was their 16th major trophy in 16 seasons. Blue is always the colour, and lifting trophies is their game. Even reserve keeper Rob Green revelled in the moment with his John Terry full-kit trophy lift. It was mildly more ridiculous than most Arsenal players in their full kit.
The repercussions are greater for the Emirates boardroom because the money nor kudos will come flooding in from the Champions League.
They have the millions and millions in TV contracts from the world's richest league, but another fallacy was exposed in Baku about the Premier League being a global brand that has no problem attracting attention.
Two of English football's biggest clubs could not come near to filling out a ground that made West Ham's London Stadium seem as bustling as La Bombonera. It could not entice others to join in when the customer base abroad prefer watching football on TV around the globe. Settee supporters are part of the culture of selling your soul for largesse.
Football lost true fans a long time ago, but everybody has a price in life that they will not be willing to pay.
For Arsenal's players, that seemed to be this final. Some were not willing to excel and some simply could not live with Chelsea. That is quite an indictment which suggests sturdy remedial work must be undertaken during the close season. Change is coming.
Arsenal fans can no longer resort to the reassuring cries of 'Wenger Out' but must surely give Emery time to at least attempt to get his project right in the second season.
By the end, his side were butchered, bloodied and bewildered after failing to heed the hazard lights. Arsenal will not reflect fondly on this sorry sojourn to the end of the world and their shot up season.