14 February 2019
Europa League round of 32: what to get excited about!
Chelsea overran London rivals Arsenal in Baku, striking four times in the second half to hand Maurizio Sarri his first trophy as a coach.
Arsenal edged the formative stages with Granit Xhaka's drive from distance clipping the top of the bar before former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Čech, playing the final game of his illustrious career, denied Emerson Palmieri and Olivier Giroud before the interval.
The contest needed a spark and Giroud provided it, darting in front of Laurent Koscielny to meet Emerson's pinpoint delivery with a diving header. It was the French striker's 11th of the campaign and sealed his poistion at the top of the scoring charts outright.
Eden Hazard had been a peripheral figure to that point but the Belgian schemer made his mark on the hour, cutting back a low cross that Pedro Rodríguez swept across Čech to give Sarri's men breathing space.
Two quickly became three when Hazard coolly dispatched a penalty after Ainsley Maitland-Niles barged over Giroud and, though substitute Alex Iwobi's stunning drive gave the Gunners fleeting hope, Hazard iced the cake from Giroud's nonchalant chip.
Hazard lays ghost of 2013 to rest
Chelsea produced a showing full of all their final experience and knowhow – with a pinch of Sarriball to boot. Jorginho, N'Golo Kanté and the impressively industrious Mateo Kovačić controlled the midfield from the half-hour mark, laying the platform for Giroud, Pedro and, of course, Hazard, to weave their magic. The Belgian, who missed the 2013 UEFA Europa League final through injury, was irrepressible and unstoppable six years on. He has his moment and Chelsea have theirs.
Dan Thacker, Chelsea reporter
Blues win the midfield battle
Arsenal were actually the brighter side for much of the first half in Baku, with Lucas Torreira imposing himself in a fractious opening. Slowly but surely, though, Chelsea gained a stranglehold, squeezing tighter and pushing higher (Čech never had a free pass) until, four minutes after the restart, the Gunners were breached. And there was no respite, no resting on laurels. The hard press simply got harder. Iwobi's thunderbolt aside, Arsenal had no answer.
John Atkin, Arsenal reporter
Ross Barkley (England) and Granit Xhaka (Switzerland) will head off to Portugal for the four-team UEFA Nations League Finals that kick off next Wednesday, while several players are on duty for the European Qualifiers.
Chelsea will take on either Liverpool or Tottenham in the UEFA Super Cup in Istanbul on 14 August, just a few days after the opening round of Premier League fixtures. The 2019/20 UEFA Europa League season kicks off in just 29 days' time, on 27 June.
More immediately, UEFA's Technical Observers will select their 18-man squad of the UEFA Europa League season on Thursday, with their pick of the competition's ten best goals to follow shortly after.