Chelsea (0) 4 Arsenal (0) 1
UEFA Europa League, Final Tie
Olympic Stadium, Baku, Azerbaijan
Wednesday, 29th May 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Čech, Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal, Maitland-Niles; Torreira, Xhaka; Kolašinac, Özil, Lacazette; Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Elneny; Lichtsteiner, Iwobi, Leno, Mustafi, Welbeck, Jenkinson, Guendouzi, Iliev, Nketiah, Willock, Saka.
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
Maybe it was the empty atmosphere here tonight in the Olympic Stadium, or perhaps it was just down to the awful fact that Arsenal were just not up to standard that made this final so devastating for us. And yet, there were times in the first half when Arsenal looked like they could actually do something, anything to turn the corner and win the cup. During this period, Arsenal did control the game, and their movement and running off the ball suggested (wrongly, as it turned out) that this final would eventually go their way. Arsenal exploited the gaps on Chelsea’s wings that their full-backs left behind them when they ventured too far up the pitch, but still were unable to gain advantage in this match unfortunately. Whether it was the shot from Granit Xhaka that kissed the top of the crossbar, or the shout for the penalty that never was from Alexandre Lacazette, you always felt that in a minute or three, Arsenal would be celebrating a goal. Not quite.
Just twenty-three disastrous minutes in the second half sealed our fate. Our old striker Olivier Giroud opened the scoring with a header four minutes after the restart, and following that goal, Chelsea just assumed, (not took, but merely assumed) control. Two goals by Pedro and Eden Hazard totally stunned Arsenal, and although Alex Iwobi scored a fantastic goal with twenty minutes left on the clock, a second Eden Hazard goal, this time a penalty made sure that the cup was Stamford Bridge bound. Although Arsenal were still looking for gaps in Chelsea’s midfield and defence, they were totally outclassed, and had it not been for the goalkeeping prowess of the departing Petr Čech, this defeat could have been an awful lot worse.
Some players just did not perform to the levels that we know that they can do; there was no leaders on the pitch, nobody with any idea of how to fix problems as they arose. They were getting in each other’s way, not taking responsibility for their own mistakes, and above all this, some players were quite frankly, anonymous. It got so bad that it almost seemed that Chelsea could just score at will, whenever and however they desired; and at times, this actually happened. The scenes on the pitch at the final whistle told its own sad story somehow. Our players were drained, battered and bruised by this experience, and the faces of the supporters on the terraces were at one with the team; after such a long and arduous campaign it finally came down to a disappointing performance in a forgotten stadium against one of our bitterest rivals so far away from home.
Let’s face it, we really are, with this group of players, off the pace of the top three or four Premiership clubs; in other words, we are now a Europa League side with Champions League ambitions. Mr. Emery’s ambitions and hard work across the season simply came to pieces at the hands of Chelsea’s midfield trio in less time than it takes to eat your morning breakfast. Mr. Emery needs to use the close season to clear out some of the inherited problem players, but therein lies another issue. How on earth is he going to try to attract top players to the club when they are not in the Champions League? Not only that, is he able to keep the better players in the squad, or will they be off to another club that will suit their ambitions and skills better?
With limited funds, as well as being buttressed by Financial Fair Play, how can he be expected to build a side to challenge the top sides in the Premiership? At this moment in time, it’s looking rather like it’s going to be a long time before Arsenal are seriously challenging for top honours again; those of us who remember the fallow times in the mid-sixties and the eighties are suddenly starting to get a sense of déjà vu. We really need to take a good cold hard look at ourselves, be brutally honest with each other and do whatever it takes to put this club back to where it belongs. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.