London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea met in the Europa League final, 4500 kilometres away from the English capital, on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
It was the first of the two all-England affairs. On Saturday, Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur will clash in the Champions League final.
Under Maurizio Sarri, Chelsea finished third in the Premier League and narrowly lost the Carabao Cup final to Manchester City.
By contrast Arsenal, under Unai Emery in his first season with the Gunners, missed out on qualifying for the Champions League after a late slump in form. The Gunners knew they had to win the final to book a ticket in Europe’s premier club competition for next season.
But unlike Sarri, Unai Emery had seen and done it all before. The Spaniard had an enviable record in this competition, having won the tournament thrice consecutively with Sevilla.
Chelsea legend Petr Cech, now with Arsenal, was playing the last match of his storied career. The Gunners were missing the services of Armenia captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan due to safety concerns. On the other hand, Chelsea was without midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek because of an injury.
The stage was set for a classic European final in a grand 68,000-seater Olympic Stadium in Baku, Azerbaijan.
Interestingly at kick-off, there were players from 14 different nationalities on the pitch featuring only one Englishman, Arsenal’s Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Chelsea started with a threesome in midfield, featuring pocket dynamo N’Golo Kante after he recovered in time from his injury.
The first significant effort of the match arrived in the 28th minute when Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka went very close, with his shot kissing the top of the crossbar.
But it was the Blues’ former shot-stopper denying them twice. Petr Cech saved from Emerson Palmieri’s drilled shot in the 34th minute before he got a strong left hand to Olivier Giroud’s shot in the 40th minute of the match. The half-time whistle blew shortly.
The first half came to a conclusion with Arsenal having started the game better, but Chelsea gradually came back into the match.
The second half got underway with the tournament’s top scorer this season, Olivier Giroud, adding to his scoring tally in the 49th minute after Emerson’s cross was met with a header by the French forward.
It was a symmetry of goals in the 49th and 59th minutes as Eden Hazard provided the assist for Pedro, who made it 2-0 with a clinical finish.
Chelsea continued to dominate and their pressure paid off again as Giroud was fouled clumsily by Maitland-Niles. Hazard stepped up to convert coolly from the penalty spot to make it 3-0.
Substitute Alex Iwobi gave Arsenal hope in the 69th minute, with the Nigerian scoring a stunning long-ranger from outside the box.
Hazard sealed the tie in Chelsea’s favour when the Belgian scored his second goal of the night in the 72nd minute, on his possible Chelsea swansong.
The scoreline read 4-1 at full time. Chelsea dominated the entire second half to win the contest comprehensively, as Arsenal had lost their spark.
Arsenal’s big guns failed to fire when it mattered the most and it was not a fairytale ending for the Czech with the headgear.
Azerbaijan, the land of fire, had possibly witnessed the little Belgian magician for one last time with the blue skin. His exploits delivered Chelsea their third European trophy in eight years and denied Arsenal a route into next season’s Champions League.