The first installment of the all English European finals was served up in Baku as Chelsea played their London rivals Arsenal for a shot at silverware to redeem roller-coaster campaigns for both clubs.
It was ultimately Chelsea who had far too much for their opponents on the night as they cruised to a comfortable 4-1 victory and their fifth major European title. Here’s a look at five things we learned from the action.
Atmosphere flat as Baku fails to bounce
All credit to the supporters who traveled the 4,970 miles to witness a London derby. They deserved a better venue than the all-purpose Baku Olympic stadium in Azerbaijan, on the very edge of Europe.
The stadium itself was smart enough, but the fans were placed too far from the action in the terraces and the whole atmosphere fell flat as a result. Noise and tension were sucked from the occasion and no doubt this contributed to a rather muted start to the final as the players took in a surreal, sterile atmosphere.
You travel all that way to watch a European final and when you sit in your seat you’re not much closer to the pitch than when you left home.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 29, 2019
Kepa Arrizabalaga uncomfortable in early stages
The young Spanish Keeper was at the heart of the controversy in Chelsea’s last final, earlier this season as he made headlines for all the wrong reasons. After refusing to come off in extra time at Wembley, Arrizabalaga was given a shot of redemption in Baku.
Perhaps that Carabao Cup final was on his mind then, as the world’s most expensive ‘keeper looked distinctly unconvincing in the opening exchanges of this final. Twice he tamely and weakly punched balls he could and should have caught with more authority. The first flap gifted a real chance for Aubameyang and could really have proven costly had the usually lethal forward found the target.
He was then very rash, racing off his line and almost clattering Alexandre Lacazette in the box for what would have been a clear penalty. Whether it was nerves or a lack of confidence, it was far from inspiring stuff from the Chelsea keeper.
Arsenal dominant in first half with joy down the flanks
It was a forgettable opening forty-five minutes if the truth be told. A below par playing surface rather dulled the build-up play from both sides and Chelsea’s midfield struggled to get a foothold
Arsenal though will look back at their first-half stint with genuine regret as they failed to create more with the joy there getting on either flank. They were the better side and pressed Chelsea with gusto, high up the pitch.
Their fullbacks made plenty of space as Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac gave their opposite numbers plenty to think about as they bombed forward with pace and aggression in the opening twenty-five minutes. Emery will have been pleased with how well his side did to put Chelsea under pressure; although their failure to get on the score sheet seemed distinctly foreboding.
Chelsea’s foward line show their superior class to take the game away from hapless Arsenal
If the first half was dull, the second was a wonderful occasion by contrast. Well, for Chelsea it was anyway. Sarri’s men well and truly clicked into gear and came at Arsenal with real tempo.
It was their menacing forward line that really transformed the Blues on the night. Olivier Giroud broke the deadlock with a top class header from an excellent delivery by Emerson. It was the Frenchman’s 11th goal in Europe this season, matching Alan Shearer’s return in the 2004-05 campaign.
Not that his peers were to be undone. Pedro got his side’s second, via Eden Hazard’s 17th assist in all competitions this season. It was then the classy Belgian’s turn, in what he pretty much admitted afterward will be his final game in a Chelsea shirt.
Is this the end for Eden Hazard at Chelsea?
— beIN SPORTS (@beINSPORTS_EN) May 29, 2019
His calm brace was silky smooth as he cut through Arsenal’s skittled defensive lines to take any lingering hopes of Champions League football from Arsenal’s brittle clutches. Emery will be furious at how easily his side capitulated in the face of Chelsea’s pace and movement. It has become an all too familiar hallmark for his side and will need urgent attention this summer.
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 29, 2019
Kante and Kovacic provide the elbow grease and know-how to guide their side to glory
The presence of N’Golo Kante in the Chelsea starting XI will have inspired the travelling supporters. Indeed it was the France international and his midfield colleague Mateo Kovacic, who really put in the hard yards in the second half to help break the Arsenal lines and free up their superior front line.
Kante and Kovacic barely put a foot wrong in the second half as they played with the know-how and experience of serial winners to help bring the trophy back to West London. Kante, playing with a painkilling injection, was mobile and industrious despite his injury and proved his worth once again to Chelsea. That’s now a fourth consecutive season that he’s won a major honour since his move to the Premier League in 2016.
Yes, you need quality, but if you don’t have the nous to go with it, it can always hurt you. Chelsea have only failed to win a trophy now in four of their last 15 seasons and their experience showed as they ruthlessly dispatched of their shell shocked rivals in Baku.
For Arsenal, they’ve now lost their fourth successive European final and must prepare for another season out of the Champions League.