At full-time in the Europa League final, the camera panned towards Maurizio Sarri. There was a gleaming smile looking in admiration towards his newly acclaimed Europa League winners medal. Despite leading Chelsea to two finals for the first time since 2012, and a third-place finish in the Premier League, Sarri has faced immense criticism. Twenty-nine years in coaching and at the age of 60, his first trophy will surely fight off a sizeable group of the #SarriOut brigade.
Important For Both Sides
However important to Sarri this win is, the same levels of disappointment will ring around the red side of London. For Arsenal, this was their chance to turn an indifferent season to one of success; a cornerstone to propel the club back from Thursday night abyss. Once again, though, Arsenal showed their true form and the diagnosis of Arsenalitis was for all to see.
The first-half showed promise for the Gunners, with Sead Kolasinac being left out in the open down the left, but a poor delivery failed to take advantage of Chelsea’s inability to defend. The opening fifteen minutes belonged to the Blues – not that they did much with the ball, but they were calm, in control and were dictating the play. Arsenal’s back three provided no luck through the middle via Hazard, so the wings got Emerson at his dangerous best.
The game’s flaccid tempo didn’t suit either side, with the closest Arsenal getting to a clear-cut opportunity being a penalty call. It looked like Kepa Arrizabalaga just clipped Alexandre Lacazette, but the reverse angle showed the Frenchman kicked the ground.
How much they would live to regret that moment. Very, actually, as on 49 minutes came the breakthrough moment. Lovely work down the left found Ederson, who showed how delivery is down with a peach of a low ball, allowing ex-Gunner Giroud to cushion a delightful header into the bottom corner. The conspiracies around Petr Cech becoming Chelsea’s sporting director after his final game, could find no reasoning in the opening goal, the finish was classic Giroud – pinpoint to perfection.
Diagnosis of Arsenalitis
Then came the collapse. Chelsea exposed a fragile middle and carved them open to feed Pedro, finding the net with a swooping finish, far out of the reach of Cech. 2-0 and seemingly game over. Within five minutes Maitland-Niles’ horror second-half was complete, conceding a penalty for a foul on Giroud, allowing Eden Hazard to wave goodbye to the Chelsea supporters with a gift, the seal to their third European title in six years.
Alex Iwobi came on to be rewarded with a stunning volley to get Unai Emery’s side back in the game, a beam of light in a month where impossible comebacks have become the norm, but this wasn’t one of those nights. As the optimists were gathering, so were the realists. A cross across the box allowed Hazard to collect a double to make it a farewell for Chelsea to remember.
A Season of Reflection
Where now for Arsenal? This was their golden chance to enter the Champions League through the back door, but they couldn’t find the key. With a lack of a clear identity and playing style, this summer is vital. With a handful of veterans leaving on frees, most notably Aaron Ramsey, Ozil questioned about his effectiveness in big games, the next three months are huge. Let’s hope for AFTV’s sake that it’s not too stressful.