Despite perceptions that Chelsea sit on the brink of chaos and collapse, there’s no doubt that trophies continue to litter the club’s cabinets.
Another season ends with a trophy, this time a second Europa League title in this decade, amongst rumblings of transfer bans, players leaving, and a manager whose style has seemed to divide the opinions of the supporters.
A 4-1 victory over Arsenal is as comprehensive a beating as you will see in a Cup final, and for 23 minutes in the second half, Chelsea displayed the kind of clinical attack that was expected at the start of the season but only appeared in flashes.
Olivier Giroud’s glanced header opened the scoring just after half-time before Pedro swept a finish beyond Petr Cech on the hour-mark.
Minutes later, Eden Hazard scored from the penalty spot after Ainsley Maitland-Niles pushed Giroud over in the penalty area.
Alex Iwobi’s sensational volley from just outside the area made the score line 3-1 and gave Arsenal a glimmer of hope given the drama that European football has given us over the last month, but Hazard put the game beyond doubt with his second and Chelsea’s fourth when he caught Giroud’s cross on the half-volley and steered the ball beyond a diving Cech.
But the first half gave no indication that the match would end up being so one-sided. In fact, it was Chelsea that seemed a bit nervous in the opening half-hour and Arsenal could have easily gotten a goal with more clinical finishing.
Kepa Arrizabalaga in his first European final looked a little jittery in goal and gifted Arsenal a gilt-edged opportunity when he punched a Maitland-Niles cross directly to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in front of goal just outside the box. It almost caught Aubameyang by surprise, as he failed to make good contact with his shot and pushed it well wide despite a fairly open net in front of him.
Arsenal may feel aggrieved to not get a first-half penalty when Alexandre Lacazette scampered past Arrizabalaga and went to ground. The referee seemed unconvinced by the incident and VAR decided to not intervene as replays didn’t show any obvious error.
Granit Xhaka tried his best to open the scoring with a powerful effort from 25 yards that just flew over the bar, and Arsenal seemed to be on top.
But Chelsea finally started to kick into gear. Emerson began finding space on the left, and when a Jorginho pass sent him clear of the Arsenal defense, his shot forced Cech into his first big save of the evening.
Minutes later, Giroud thought he’d scored after some slick passing between him, Jorginho, and Hazard gave him space in the middle. His shot was aimed towards the far post, but Cech recovered his position and just got a hand on it to divert it wide.
Giroud would finally get his goal when he got across Laurent Koscielny to meet a driven cross from Emerson and glance the ball inside Cech’s near post.
With Arsenal now behind and pushing forward, Hazard began to find space and started tormenting the Arsenal defence.
On 60 minutes, Hazard’s run down the left seemed to freeze the Arsenal back line and Pedro slipped into the middle of the penalty area to sweep Hazard’s pull back into the corner of the net.
Arsenal seemed rattled by the second goal, and things just got worse when Maitland-Niles clumsily barged into the back of Giroud after Hazard had slipped a clever ball through for the striker. Hazard calmly stepped up to take the penalty and stroke it past Cech.
Iwobi’s volley after Chelsea failed to clear their lines from a free kick, before Hazard stopped any hope of an Arsenal comeback on a counter attack.
Giroud had tormented Arsenal’s left side in the second half, and again Hazard slipped the ball through for him. But as Hazard continued his run, Giroud played a delicious clipped cross back to Hazard to beat Cech for his second goal and to put the game beyond doubt.