Chelsea got the better of its English Premier League rivals to win the Europa League final Wednesday, beating Arsenal 4-1 amid a strange atmosphere in the Baku Olympic Stadium.
Despite a bright start from the Gunners, Chelsea ran riot in the second half with three goals in quick succession.
Former Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, who made 253 appearances during his six years at the Emirates, broke the goalless deadlock with a wonderful header in the 49th minute before Pedro doubled Chelsea’s lead moments after.
The Frenchman barely celebrated the goal which helped end Arsenal’s hopes of Champions League football next season.
With Arsenal unraveling, Eden Hazard was on hand to add a third – dispatching an expert penalty after Giroud was fouled in the box.
Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi did produce a moment of inspiration – smashing a shot into the top corner – but it proved little more than a consolation after Hazard added a fourth following a sweeping counter-attack.
Empty seats and a muted crowd is hardly what you would expect from a major European final but the venue was always a strange choice for the two clubs.
It sits nearly 3,000 miles from London, where both finalists are based less than nine miles apart.
As a result of the epic journey, a combined 6,000 tickets allocated to the clubs were returned and the atmosphere seemed to suffer as a result.
Away from the pitch, the Europa League showpiece hasn’t been short of controversy.
Controversy in the buildup
In the weeks running up to the final in Baku, UEFA was also criticized for the paltry number of tickets offered to Chelsea and Arsenal fans for the match. Just 6,000 were supplied to fans of each club in a stadium that seats about 65,000 people.
“Offering more tickets to fans of the participating teams, without any guarantee that they would be able to arrange suitable travel to reach Baku, was therefore not a responsible option,” said UEFA in a statement sent to CNN.
Those lucky enough to secure a ticket then faced the logistical nightmare to get to the game.
Joining swathes of English fans watching the final on television was Arsenal’s midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
The Armenian chose not to travel to the game due to fears for his safety in Azerbaijan, which has been locked in a century-long political conflict with his native country.
The decision was taken despite European football governing body UEFA’s “guarantees” – after speaking to “the highest authorities in the country” – that the player would be safe.
A night of goodbyes
Arsenal manager Unai Emery has made winning this particular trophy an art form during his managerial career – winning three consecutive titles as Sevilla boss between 2014 and 2016.
But even the Spaniard’s experience couldn’t help Arsenal in Azerbaijan, as its hunt for a first European title in 25 years continues.
Chelsea, meanwhile, had already qualified for next season’s Champions League, but the win secured manager Maurizio Sarri’s first major title.
Wednesday’s final was also the last game Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech will play in his career.
The 37-year-old announced he would retire at the end of the season after 15 years playing in England’s top-flight.
Cech won four English Premier League titles and the Champions League with Chelsea before heading to North London to join Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in 2015.
Despite the loss, the veteran goalkeeper was one of the best performers on the night and the scoreline could have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for his expert interventions.
Hazard says ‘goodbye’
Meanwhile, Hazard has probably played his last game in a Chelsea shirt, with heavy speculation that the Belgian wizard will join Real Madrid this summer.
“We will decide in a few days and the only target in my mind tonight was to win this final,” he told BT Sport, speaking about his future after the game.
“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.”
It’s also not yet clear whether Blues manager Sarri will remain at Stamford Bridge next season. The Italian endured a turbulent year in the EPL as he struggled to develop a bond with his players.