Exactly a year on from our brilliant win over Arsenal in the Europa League final, Olivier Giroud reflects back on a special occasion against his former club after being involved in three of our four goals on the night...
The Frenchman spent five-and-a-half years at the Emirates Stadium before his switch across London in January 2018 and he knew, as soon as it became apparent that the two London sides would meet in the Azerbaijani capital last May, that the encounter would be particularly poignant for him.
However, he claims personal thoughts were put to one side as he focused solely on securing the first European club honour of his career for the Blues.
‘That final against Arsenal was obviously very special for me emotionally,’ he said. ‘When I saw that we were going to face Arsenal in the final, I knew it was going to be special.
‘On top of that, it was only a year after I left. I have quite a lot of friends over there, people who work in the club’s offices. That was extra motivation for me and I knew that it was going to be a high-pressure match.’
Giroud had faced his former club before but the circumstances were far more unique with silverware up for grabs and he admits he prepared differently for the game with that in mind.
‘You definitely prepare for the match in a special way, in a different way, because you know that they know you inside out, and they know that I know them well too,’ he explained.
‘You have to plan for the match but not play the match before it’s happened. You have to think ahead. I thought that if I had a one-on-one with Petr Cech, who knows me really well, or a penalty, I would have to shoot there and not somewhere else.
‘I knew that he knew me really well. I was also going to play against my friend Laurent Koscielny, who has also known me inside-out for years because we started together at Tours in 2008.
‘It was a very special moment but it was like extra motivation for me because I wanted to show them that I still had some energy in me and some good years left in me.’
The striker was chosen to lead the line by Maurizio Sarri, as he had done throughout the Europa League campaign to great effect, heading into the final as the competition’s joint-leading goalscorer. His treble away against Dynamo Kiev in the last-16 retains a particular fondness in his mind as he reflects back, revealing he was surprised to learn afterwards that he had notched the fabled ‘perfect hat-trick’.
‘After the match, I went to the changing room holding the ball and someone said “perfect hat-trick!” I didn’t know that idiom but I had scored with my right foot, with my left foot and with a header so it was a nice thing to say. I kept the ball and everyone congratulated me for it so it was a great performance and a great memory.’
The goalscoring knack continued in the final as Giroud opened the scoring with a trademark stooping header before playing a part in two more goals as the Blues stormed to a 4-1 victory. He describes the experience as going better than he could ever have imagined.
‘I scored, I got an assist and I won the penalty so quite a lot of good things happened there for me because I was involved in three goals out of the four that we scored,’ he states. ‘It was like in a dream because I couldn’t have imagined that it would go so well, so perfectly for us.
‘I wanted to win things at Chelsea - that’s why I was even more motivated that night - but winning against your old club like that.’
He trails off in thought at the memory before finishing by explaining how the personal achievement of finishing as the competition’s top scorer with 11 goals was special but always outweighed by the significance of winning team silverware.
‘It was incredible for a striker like me to score a hat-trick against Dynamo Kyiv but you haven’t won anything at that stage and the whole point of the competition is to win the trophy at the end.
‘It’s all about winning. That final was even more special because it was against Arsenal, and I went out there to win the trophy. That’s how you can leave your mark on history, by writing your name in the record books.’