Even though the 2018/19 Fantasy Premier League campaign is long over, there were still pertinent talking points from Wednesday night’s Europa League final.
Firstly, it was confirmed by Chelsea’s 4-1 victory, that Arsenal would once again compete in the Europa League for 2019/20.
That means a continuation of their Thursday/Sunday schedule during the autumn and spring months, and likely further unpredictable line-ups from manager Unai Emery.
However, there were still plenty of lessons to be learned from the individual performances on show in Baku.
Chelsea 4-1 Arsenal
Goals: Olivier Giroud, Pedro, Eden Hazard x2
Assists: Emerson Palmieri, Hazard, Giroud x2
Two goals and an assist was the perfect send-off for Eden Hazard as he all but confirmed his Chelsea exit at full-time.
While the Belgian is yet to confirm where he will be playing football next season, it does look as if it will not be at Chelsea.
With most of the clubs tipped to sign him outside the Premier League, Real Madrid proving the front-runners, we may well have seen the last of Hazard as an FPL asset.
Considering he recorded his best ever score on the game in 2018/19, and secured three attacking returns in the Europa League, he will be sorely missed next year.
“I think it’s goodbye but you never know. My dream was to play in the Premier League. I did this for seven years in one of the biggest clubs in the world. Now maybe it’s time for a new challenge. I talked about my decision already. I said that two weeks ago. Now it depends on the club. I’m just waiting on both clubs. Like the fans I’m just waiting. You will know in a couple of days.” – Eden Hazard
It will be interesting to see who steps up to take penalties for Chelsea next season with Hazard on the way out.
Jorginho took one in Gameweek 1, but factoring in shoot-outs this season, David Luiz is the only option to have taken more than three spot-kicks and kept a 100% record.
Also potentially stepping up for the Blues in 2019/20 could be Olivier Giroud. His goal in the final ensured that he claimed the Europa League’s Golden Boot trophy, no player scoring as many as his 11 throughout the competition.
That serves to demonstrate what the former Arsenal man can offer next season, if indeed he decides to remain at Stamford Bridge.
That said, Gonzalo Higuaín, still only on loan from Juventus has been in poor form recently and was actually an unused substitute for arguably Chelsea’s biggest match of the season. So it is possible that competition for Giroud’s place could even abate over the summer months.
Also of note to Fantasy managers was further confirmation of Marcos Alonso‘s slip down the pecking order at Chelsea.
Like Higuaín, he was left on the bench for the final with Emerson Palmieri operating at left-back and impressing too – he got an assist for Giroud’s opener and caused plenty of problems for Arsenal on his flank.
As has often been the case away from the Emirates Stadium this season, it was Arsenal’s defence that largely cost them the Europa League title.
Right wing-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles continues to offer a decent threat going forward but was horrendously exposed both by Emerson and Hazard down the left.
He was also clumsy in his tackle on Giroud in the second half, giving away the penalty that put the game truly beyond Arsenal’s reach.
The youngster did not get too much support from his centre-backs either. On the right of the back-three, it was Sokratis Papastathopoulos‘ job to help Maitland-Niles out but he was decidedly poor.
Captain Laurent Koscielny was not his usual assured self in the air and was too easily beaten by Giroud for the opening goal.
Furthermore, Nacho Monreal lacked the pace to put the shackles on Pedro, who joined in the rout.
On the left flank of the 3-4-2-1, Sead Kolasinac was trusted with a start but could not offer any of his usual decent delivery.
A lack of creativity further up the field was a key reason why Arsenal were unable to ask Chelsea too many questions.
With the departure of Aaron Ramsey imminent, they will need to find another midfield creator.
Mesut Özil appears to be the only player in Arsenal’s squad with the ability to fashion opportunities for the front two but he offered very little on Wednesday night.
A creative midfielder will be sorely needed for Arsenal in the summer transfer window but not qualifying for the Champions League could restrict their options.
“Maybe (lack of Champions League football will affect Arsenal’s transfer strategy). But we are a big team. I think Arsenal is a big name in the football world, and a lot of players want to play here. We are in one process and we need, in this process, to be strong. “When we started this season, the idea was to get more competitive, like a team. To be closer to the other teams. And we did that. At the moment it’s not enough to reach our targets. But we’ll continue working in our minds. The transfers, I don’t know for next year. But the club is working to improve and to take all we need to go our way. Also, we have a lot of players with the possibility to improve. We are playing a lot of young players, experiencing a final for the first time. I am positive for our future, creating our way with young players and getting better in our way.” – Unai Emery
19-year-old Joe Willock came on and did a better job of getting service to the forwards but it was too little too late.
That meant that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette were left to feed on scraps, which does not offer much encouragement ahead of next season.
Furthermore, Aubameyang continued to show that spurning big chances is, unfortunately, still part of his game.
Chelsea XI (4-3-3): Kepa; Emerson, D Luiz, Christensen, Azpilicueta; Kovačić (Barkley 76′), Jorginho, Kanté; Hazard (Zappacosta 89′), Giroud, Pedro (Willian 71′).
Arsenal XI (3-4-1-2): Čech; Monreal (Guendouzi 66′), Koscielny, Sokratis; Kolašinac, Xhaka, Torreira (Iwobi 67′), Maitland-Niles; Özil (Willock 77′); Aubameyang, Lacazette.