Giroud seals Chelsea’s progress as Arsenal suffer Welbeck blow
Olivier Giroud scored his first Chelsea goal in 794 minutes as the Blues progressed to the UEFA Europa League knock-out stages with a 1-0 win at BATE Borisov yesterday.
Chelsea’s fourth win from as many Group L games – three of them by a 1-0 margin – was played out in freezing fog and memorable only for France World Cup winner Giroud’s first goal for the club since May’s win over Liverpool.
BATE, who were comfortably beaten last month in London, struck the woodwork three times and Eden Hazard’s services were required for longer than anticipated in Belarus.
Seven changes were made to the side which beat Crystal Palace 3-1 last Sunday , with Hazard starting for the first time since the draw with Manchester United on October 20.
The Blues’ head coach, Maurizio Sarri, left David Luiz, Antonio Rudiger, Marcos Alonso and in-form striker Alvaro Morata at home, with one eye on Everton this Sunday, and said Hazard would feature for 45 or 50 minutes.
Chelsea were 2-0 up after eight minutes two weeks ago, but BATE were a different proposition at home.
The hosts came close to taking the lead on more than occasion before the visitors pounced in the 53rd minute.
Jorginho fed left-back Emerson Palmieri, who found his man with the cross. Giroud’s downward header at the near post had enough power to beat Denis Scherbitski, but the goalkeeper should have done better.
Chelsea were relieved to stand firm after the breakthrough as they held on to qualify with two matches to spare and extend their unbeaten run to 17 games, since August’s Community Shield loss to Manchester City.
Arsenal also qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League with a 0-0 draw at home to ten-man Sporting Lisbon last night in a game which was overshadowed by a potentially serious ankle injury to England forward Danny Welbeck.
A victory for Qarabag against Vorskla Poltava in Ukraine meant the stalemate was enough to secure the Gunners’ progress from Group E.
The Portuguese visitors had Jeremy Mathieu sent off late on for scything down Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the striker burst through on goal, but it was Welbeck’s injury just before the half-hour mark that was the main talking point from a largely forgettable Emirates Stadium encounter.
The 27-year-old has overcome serious issues in the past, missing large chunks of his career with knee problems. This latest setback came on the day he was named in Gareth Southgate’s latest England squad for the forthcoming games against the United States and Croatia. He was carried off the pitch following an awkward landing, after he had beaten Sporting defender Bruno Gaspar to a header, and it was clear he was in need of help.
Olivier Giroud last nightKIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP