It’s probably not surprising that the Europa League final—a match rife with controversy, low attendance, and teams traveling halfway across the world—was a snoozefest, but good God, was this boring. Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-1 to claim the club’s second Europa League title, lifting a trophy that means very little to them but had monumental importance for the losers.
That the game would prove so dull feels especially offensive, given that it featured attacking luminaries like Eden Hazard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette. Aside from Hazard, though, the other big talents were mostly quiet, ceding the spotlight to castaways, a penalty kick, and (thankfully) one beautiful goal.
First, former Arsenal man Olivier Giroud, who rifled a header past former Chelsea goalie (and, reportedly, future Chelsea sporting director) Petr Čech. It was fine:
Later, in the 59th minute, a dinky left-footed shot from ex-Barcelona winger Pedro managed to find the corner beyond Čech:
Just four minutes later, Giroud was brought down in the box, and Hazard stepped up to the spot to essentially end the game with an easy spot kick to put Chelsea up by three goals:
At least one Arsenal player came to Baku to play, though. Shortly after being substituted in, Alex Iwobi launched a stunning volley past the entire Chelsea defense and goalie Kepa Arrizabalaga to give the Gunners a modicom of hope:
But just three minutes later that hope died when Hazard did what he’s been doing all season and put Chelsea on his back, finishing a nifty little cross from Giroud with a decisive left-footed goal:
The general play surrounding the goals felt more like something from an off-season friendly than a European final, as both teams struggled to mount anything resembling a coordinated attack, particularly in a sleepy first half. The crowd, already depleted by the unfulfilled tickets and general sense of ambivalence towards the Europa League, was mostly silent throughout, barely revving up even on the few opportunities presented to either team. (The loudest cheer of the night occurred when Hazard was subbed off in the 89th minute.)
And so, Chelsea and their beleaguered manager Maurizio Sarri get their only silverware of the season, while Arsenal get sent, once again, to the Europa League next year. The real losers here—besides Arsenal, whose elimination from Champions League contention will surely restrict the level of players they can recruit this summer—were the people who trekked all the way to Baku, Azerbaijan to witness the showdown. At least they got one good goal out of the bargain, and Chelsea fans will have something to hold over their London brethren for at least a few months.