Bust it is then. But first let me rewind and fill in some details...
Today started with a 4am breakfast at the Hampton hotel at Stansted airport. I can categorically state, I’ve never had an earlier breakfast. As I took my seat I noted a chap sipping a fresh pint of larger (the thought of watching Arsenal sober?). Even Jorginho would have struggled to get through the Stansted maze of duty free shops, maybe our attackers should pay a visit? After a small technical delay, we set off for Baku. Hats off to both the Thomas Cook and Arsenal staff who were on board to answer questions and ease the trip.
Circling back over the Caspian sea to land, I was struck at the barren landscape, greenish clear waters, and low rise basic dwellings. Baku terminal is modern and has marble to beat the band. We were escorted to waiting buses through a deserted airport, which had an eerie feel to it. The reception of police at the stadium was very impressive, like battalions of unsullied lined up in menacing columns. Trouble would be at a minimum. We then oddly switched into smaller shuttle buses and were escorted into downtown. The local time was 5pm, and the lack of rush hour traffic impeding us was because every side road was being stopped by the police. Baku was going all out to welcome its guests.
The designated Arsenal fan zone was very similar to the first half of the game. Unmemorable. We jumped in a taxi and found a German style beer garden bar catering to Arsenal fans (if only we had done something similar at half time!). After a very staid and quiet flight, and an equally dull fan zone, this German styled bar was much more lively, with Arsenal greatest goals on the big screen TVs. UTA! We finally headed to the stadium with an hour to spare for the 11pm local time kickoff.
Baku Olympic Stadium is impressive from afar, and doesn’t disappoint within. Modern with a very open feel, I was able to walk fully around the pitch inside the stadium and the lack of crowd segregation was incredible. I guess everyone was so exhausted just getting here, there was little energy to be expensed on the opposition fans. That, or the police presence made any trouble a mute point. There was some good banter in the beer queues between blue and red fans, a few Frankfurt fans who obviously were expecting to beat Chelsea were spotted knocking about, oh and one confused local in a ManU t-shirt (posted to our Twitter stream).
As I mentioned the first half wasn’t a classic. It felt like we edged it, but you could tell Chelsea were dangerous when attacking. What was most worrying was our lack of energy and a non inspiring bench. The highlight of the first 45mins was no doubt two Arsenal fans screaming at each other. One wanted to stand, the other wanted him to sit. I’m not exactly sure what the stewards said, but our man sat down.
I’m not sure what Sarri said at half time, but it too worked a treat. The blue wave swept over us with 4 goals in 23 minutes. When Iwobi scored a cracker we clung to wild thoughts of epic comebacks. Those thoughts died still born soon after. Maybe tired after the 3,000 mile trip, or maybe just feeling pity, the Chelsea section of the stadium didn’t seem to rub the 4-1 drubbing in. It seemed such a pedestrian performance by them. We were simply God awful. It’s a long trip back to North London from Baku ahead, but it pales in significance compared to the journey ahead of Arsenal to rebuild and challenge at the top.
Sitting waiting for my delayed flight, I leave you with the damning verdict of Amy Lawrence:
“Ultimately, Arsenal messed up the end of the season twice over and the hierarchy, head coach and players have a lot of thinking to do. Not all of that will be positive.
In the bigger picture, they have lost their past four European finals, a time span encompassing teams from 1995, 2000, 2006 and 2019. The fact that it is a familiar feeling does not help them absorb this blow.”
Baku was a bust. COYG.