English sweep as Chelsea, Arsenal reach Europa League final
Manchester: England became the first country to provide two finalists in both European competitions in the same season after Chelsea and Arsenal made it through to the title match in the Europa League on Thursday.
Chelsea beat Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 in a penalty shootout at Stamford Bridge, after a second straight 1-1 draw between the teams in the semifinals.
Eden Hazard converted the winning penalty, in what could be his final appearance at Stamford Bridge, after Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga saved two penalties.
Arsenal’s path to the final was more straightforward, beating Valencia 4-2 thanks to a hat trick from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to complete a 7-3 win on aggregate.
It adds up to a season of domination for English clubs in Europe, with Liverpool and Tottenham reaching the final of the Champions League this week by overturning three-goal aggregate deficits at various stages of their semifinals against Barcelona and Ajax, respectively.
The Europa League final will be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 29. It is the first time since the 1972 UEFA Cup — when Wolverhampton Wanderers took on Tottenham — that two English teams squared off for the title in any of this competition’s various guises.
Arsenal will likely need to win the game to get into next season’s Champions League as it probably won’t finish in the top four of the Premier League. Chelsea is already guaranteed a top-four finish heading into the final round of fixtures this weekend.
If this was Hazard’s last touch of a ball at Stamford Bridge in a Chelsea jersey, he made it count.
The Belgium forward has been strongly linked with a move to Real Madrid in the offseason after seven years at Chelsea, during which he has developed into one of the world’s most highly regarded players.
‘I don’t think about that,’ Hazard said, when asked if it might have been his last home game for Chelsea. ‘I’m only thinking about winning something for this club and this squad. If it’s my last game, I will try to do everything for this club to win a trophy. In my mind, I don’t know yet.’
Hazard set up Chelsea’s opening goal by Ruben Loftus-Cheek in the 28th minute with a perfectly weighted pass through Eintracht’s defense but otherwise was well shackled by the German team, which was looking to repeat its 1980 title win in the UEFA Cup — the precursor to the Europa League.
Luka Jovic equalized on the night — and on aggregate — with his 10th goal of the competition, tying for top scorer with Chelsea’s Olivier Giroud. And Eintracht created the better chances in extra time, when substitute Sebastien Haller had two efforts cleared off the line first by David Luiz and then Davide Zappacosta.
Eintracht gained an early advantage in the shootout when Cesar Azpilicueta had an attempt saved by Kevin Trapp, leaving the visitors 2-1 ahead. But Kepa starred by saving Martin Hinteregger’s penalty with his knees after staying in the middle of his goal, before pushing aside Goncalo Paciancia’s shot.
That presented Hazard with the chance to wrap up victory and he sent Trapp the wrong way.
It was redemption for Kepa, who refused to follow the orders of manager Maurizio Sarri and be substituted at the end the English League Cup final against Manchester City in February. That match ended up going to penalties, too, and Chelsea lost.
‘Wembley is in the past and I learned from it,’ Kepa said. ‘I said I was sorry but we always keep moving forward and today was another game.’
Chelsea reached its first major final since the 2013 Europa League, which it won under Rafa Benitez.
Unai Emery was a three-time winner of the Europa League with Sevilla, from 2014-16. Now he’s got a chance of winning it again in his first season as Arsenal manager after becoming the first coach to get to the final of the competition on four occasions.
Once again, it was the strike partnership of Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette that did the damage against Valencia, which took the lead in the 11th through Kevin Gameiro and initially swarmed all over Arsenal.
But the complexion of the game changed when Lacazette flicked the ball on for Aubameyang to chest down and power a bouncing ball into the corner from outside the area in the 17th.
Lacazette collected a pass from Lucas Torreira, span his marker and curled home a finish to put Arsenal in the lead for the first time, only for Gameiro to equalize from close range eight minutes later.
Aubameyang’s speed was a constant threat for Arsenal when he drifted onto the flanks, and he showed a turn of pace inside the area when he latched onto Ainsley Maitland-Niles cross from the right and slid home a finish from the edge of the six-yard box.
The Gabon international completed his hat trick in the 89th minute by firing a shot into the roof of the net from an acute angle from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s through-ball.
There is guaranteed to be an all-English UEFA Super Cup in August in Istanbul, too.