BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — For Eden Hazard, it was the perfect goodbye. For Petr Cech, it was a painful way to retire.
Hazard scored twice past his former teammate as Chelsea sliced through Arsenal in the second half of the Europa League final on Wednesday, netting four times in the space of 23 minutes to win 4-1 in a London derby played far from home.
The Belgian then confirmed that he is likely to leave the club this summer, amid widespread speculation about a move to Real Madrid.
“I think it is a goodbye but in football you never know,” Hazard told British broadcaster BT Sport . “My dream was to play in the Premier League. I did this for seven years for one of the biggest clubs in the world. Maybe it’s time for a new challenge.”
After a drab first half, Chelsea took control in the 49th minute when Olivier Giroud met Emerson’s pass with a diving header into the net. It was the French striker’s 11th goal in 14 games in the Europa League this season, but he barely celebrated against his old team, kneeling with palms raised as his teammates mobbed him.
“These two clubs changed my life,” Giroud said. “They gave me the opportunity to play in the Premier League. I didn’t want to celebrate against Arsenal but I am so proud to win this trophy with Chelsea.”
Pedro doubled the lead when he found space in the penalty area in the 60th to stroke in a cut-back pass from Hazard. It was soon 3-0 when Hazard converted a penalty after Ainsley Maitland-Niles — the only English player to start the all-English final — shoved Giroud in the box.
Two minutes after coming off the bench, Alex Iwobi punished Chelsea for a poor clearance with a volley from the edge of the box to make it 3-1 in the 69th.
But Arsenal’s hopes of a comeback were extinguished three minutes later when Hazard and Giroud teamed up again. Hazard first passed the ball to Giroud and then knocked his flicked cross past Cech, the veteran goalkeeper who was playing his final game before retiring.
Facing the team where he spent his best years — and is expected to return this summer in an administrative role — Cech made good saves from Hazard and substitute Willian to stop Chelsea increasing its lead yet further.
“It’s disappointing to have lost the final and especially now. It was the last game of my career and you want to finish on a high, but I had an amazing career,” Cech he said.
Ending the season empty-handed was unfair to Arsenal, which is improving fast, Cech added.
It was the first trophy for Maurizio Sarri, the Chelsea coach, who did not rule out leaving the club Tuesday when asked about the vacant Juventus coach job, after falling out with sections of the club’s fans.
After the final, he said he wanted to meet with Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich — who missed most games this season due to British visa issues but was in Baku for the final — or director Marina Granovskaia.
“The season finished one hour ago so tomorrow I will begin to speak with my club, to the owner, to the director, or Marina, I don’t know,” Sarri said. “We need to know what the club can do for me, what I can do better for the club. I need to speak but I also think the club needs to speak with me.”
In the first Europa League final to have the video referee system, referee Gianluca Rocchi opted against using any reviews. That aggrieved Arsenal’s players and fans early on when Alexandre Lacazette collided with Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga but no penalty was given.
Arsenal now faces a third consecutive season outside the Champions League, which could hurt its ability to attract transfer targets in the summer.
“We need the same players, the same idea, maybe also to add some new players,” said coach Unai Emery, a three-time Europa League winner with Sevilla. “But it’s the same way we’ve done this year, to do one step more. I think next year a lot of players who played the first time this year with us can be better.”
With several thousand empty seats and only around 6,000 fans from England, the atmosphere in the stadium struggled to match that of a typical European final.
Arsenal and Chelsea fans had complained of the high cost of travel from Western Europe, and even though locals and fans from elsewhere in the world made up the numbers, the atmosphere was subdued, even flat. Livening up the Baku Olympic Stadium will be a tricky task for Azerbaijani’s organizers for the four European Championships game it hosts next year.
For English soccer, this was just the curtain-raiser in a week showing the Premier League’s dominance. On Saturday, Tottenham and Liverpool contest the Champions League final in Madrid.
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