Arsenal’s Champions League dream unravels like their defence
The repercussions of losing the Europa League final to Chelsea are much greater than just missing out on the Champions League, writes Michael Hincks.
Never mind the build-up, it took a while to remember the importance of this match once it kicked off, what with the distraction of the empty seats and the terrible TV angle, which gave the affair more than a whiff of a pre-season friendly.
But it was Arsenal who woke us all up, and the realisation that this was the match they needed to win to reach the Champions League soon kicked back into gear.
Chances came and went for Arsenal, and their real ‘What if?’ moment – albeit more of a ‘Why not?’ – came when Alexandre Lacazette was denied a penalty after being brought down by Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal is challenged by Kepa ArrizabalagaGetty Images
The tide then turned after Granit Xhaka skimmed the bar, with Chelsea finally stamping their authority on the final towards the latter stages of the first half.
Petr Cech – set to re-join Chelsea this summer as director of football – was on hand to deny his old and future side with two saves, the second a terrific stop to deny Olivier Giroud, but was powerless to prevent the Blues from taking the lead four minutes into the second half, a day after the match technically kicked off.
Emerson found Giroud in the middle, and after firing a header into the near-bottom corner, he dropped to his knees to celebrate an 11th Europa League goal of the season
And as Arsenal looked to fight their way back into the match, another killer blow, with Pedro sweeping home from Hazard’s square across.
A barge from Ashley Maitland-Niles allowed Eden Hazard to score Chelsea’s third from the spot, and though Alex Iwobi volleyed Arsenal back into slight contention, a second from Hazard ensured the Europea League trophy was Chelsea's for a second time in six years.
It could have got worse, much worse, for Arsenal, as their defence opened up as they pursued a way back into the match, but Cech and a couple of wayward Chelsea shots ensured it would not be total humiliation.
And so, Arsenal were forced to watch their Champions League dreams dashed as Chelsea lifted their first piece of silverware under Maurizio Sarri, and not only will the Gunners have to prepare for another season of Europa League football, they will have to do so with a budget unlikely to see them back in the top four.
Arsenal duo Lacazette and AubameyangGetty Images
Back in February, the BBC’s David Ornstein revealed Arsenal’s budget would depend on what European competition they reached. £40m for the Europa League, £100m for the Champions League.
The Champions League brings in greater revenue, but more importantly it attracts a greater quality of players, but now, resigned to Europe’s secondary competition with a miserly budget, it will take a while for the wounds of this loss to heal.
Even longer than it will their fans who ventured to Baku to return. Much longer.