The scene is set, the moment slightly tainted. Baku the location for the dismantling of Arsenal Football Club. The capital of Azerbaijan was never a place I associated with hosting a Europa League final, so distant and detached. An empty cathedral as a stadium, where nobody could hear you scream. Arsenal fans would soon face a pandemic of their own, social distancing themselves from success once again. My television on mute for the occasion, something that meant so much, felt so halo. A flashback to Callum Hudson-Odoi versus Hector Bellerin in pre-season gave me similar emotions. It was like celebrating in a library.
The Beginning Of The End
A puff of smoke gliding through the tunnels, Maurizio Sarri looking dapper from head-to-toe, taking his lungs through trials and tribulations to complete the look. A cigar tilted to his right, his glasses tilted to his left, a man on a mission. The day before, the supposed ‘bust up’ with Gonzalo Higuain, now a figure of the imagination. In what would prove to be his final game in charge, it was crucial he left in the same dignified way he entered. Speaking of exits, “I think it’s goodbye.” Eden Hazard’s glittering Chelsea career would come to a close, no better way to bow out then unraveling Arsenal’s defensive structure, or lack thereof.
So, with everyone in the hollow arena silently sat, let’s reminiscence. It was time for business. 2500 miles from home, Petr Cech ironically lined up against his former club, just before he would officially sign on as Technical Director. David Luiz draped in blue, would ironically cross paths also, in reverse. Football can be a funny old sport sometimes. Onto the proceedings, the connections I made earlier would prove more entertaining. A match devoid of action in the first half had its soul sucked out, the 10,000 fans representing their blue and red colours respectively had tried their very best to develop an atmosphere, but to no avail.
It took a half-time injection of second-hand smoke for Chelsea players to spring into life. Meanwhile, Emery was more than likely calculating how many points he needed from the match to make top four. It’s likely my version of the half time meeting is untrue, but when Giroud zipped in at the near post with a diving header, who could tell me otherwise. 1-0 soon became 2-0 as liquid football took over proceedings- ‘Sarriball’ was ironically seen as Sarri was heading for the exit. Take a picture of the second half it might last longer? The clock running down, this football would soon expire, much like Arsenal’s hopes for making Champions League qualification.
Hazard was wasting no time in showcasing the best farewell performance he possibly could, scoring the next two goals to set up a 4-1 victory. In a game that really had little significance to Chelsea in-comparison to Arsenal, with access to Europe’s elite competition secured. This really was just a matter of adding another trophy to the cabinet, yet they ran rampant. Sarri’s side went for the throat like next week’s wages depended on it. An Iwobi consolation the only moment to savoir for the 5,000 travelling Arsenal fans. A humbling defeat for them, AFTV cameras would be waiting outside. The lights would shine on them brightly as they attempt to explain just how their side evaporated in the Baku heat.
London (And Baku) Is Blue
As for Chelsea, jubilation and celebration could commence. No better way for a manager and talisman to depart than covered in silverware. I began to cut onions in the kitchen, “I think this is goodbye” a line that I used at the start of this piece- yes, we’ve reached that moment. Some of you cried, some of you claim it was sweat. I claim I was cutting onions. No further questions.
With the dust starting to settle not just in Baku, but in my kitchen. Sarri’s secondhand smoke, smoke alarms ringing. A match that was befitting, albeit the occasion a drag. This was Baku, and I ‘4-1’ will never forget it.