BAKU: Eden Hazard scored twice and created a third to steer Chelsea to a 4-1 victory over London rivals Arsenal in the Europa League final in what looks likely to be the Belgium winger’s final game for the Blues. Chelsea destroyed Arsenal with four second-half goals that handed coach Maurizio Sarri his first major trophy at the age of 60, although that might not be enough to silence the speculation that he could also be leaving Stamford Bridge imminently. Former Arsenal hero Olivier Giroud and Spain attacker Pedro each got a goal to give Chelsea their third European title in seven years, with the Champions League triumph in 2012 followed by their first Europa League victory in 2013.
Hazard, who joined Chelsea in 2012, looked emotional when he was substituted in the final minutes and held his hands over his eyes to an ovation in Baku’s cavernous Olympic Stadium.
The Belgium winger has signalled he wants to move to Real Madrid in the close season.
“My dream was to play in the Premier League and I did it for seven years,” Hazard told a television reporter shortly after the final whistle. “Maybe I think it is time to say goodbye.
“We will decide in a few days and the only target in my mind was to win this final. 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.”
After a tepid first half, Giroud put Chelsea ahead in the 49th minute with an angled header. The Blues doubled their lead 10 minutes later when Pedro diverted a cross from Hazard beyond former Chelsea keeper Petr Cech, who was making his last appearance before retiring as a player.
With Arsenal on the ropes, defender Ainsley Maitland-Niles collided with Giroud to concede a penalty that Hazard stroked home after 65 minutes.
Alex Iwobi clawed a goal back for Arsenal but Chelsea restored their three-goal cushion in the 72nd minute when Hazard swapped passes with Giroud to score his second. Arsenal have lost five of their six major European finals, with their only victory coming in the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup against Parma.
The defeat in the early hours of Thursday – the final in the Azerbaijan capital kicked off at 11.pm local time to coincide with peak viewing time in England – also deprives Arsenal of their last chance to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
Chelsea had already made sure of their place in Europe’s elite competition by finishing third in the Premier League.
But Arsenal coach Unai Emery is on more solid ground than Chelsea’s Sarri who, after one stop-start season at Stamford Bridge, has reportedly been targeted by Juventus back in his native Italy.
“Sarri is a great guy, a great coach and he deserves this,” Chelsea defender David Luiz said. “The manager did amazing for this club. I don’t know about speculation, now is the time to talk about the title.” — Reuters