London: Arsenal and Chelsea put patchy domestic form behind them to reach the Europa League last 16 and they were joined by fellow big guns from Italy on a night of rip-roaring action in the continent’s second-tier competition, Thursday.
Arsenal beat BATE Borisov 3-0 after a 0-1 first leg defeat by the Belarus champions while Chelsea took some of the pressure off coach Maurizio Sarri with a 3-0 home defeat of Malmo which gave them a 5-1 aggregate win over the Swedish side.
Inter Milan, the winners of three European Cup titles and UEFA Cup crowns apiece, also strolled through with a 4-0 home win over Rapid Vienna which completed a 5-0 dismissal.
Rattled by embarrassing domestic defeats, Chelsea looked jittery before Olivier Giroud settled their nerves with a close range tap-in shortly after half time at Stamford Bridge following good work by N’Golo Kante and Willian in the build-up.
Malmo had central defender Magnus Bengtsson sent off in the 73rd minute for a second bookable offence, moments before Ross Barkley curled in a delightful free-kick from 20 metres.
Callum Hudson-Odoi put the icing on the cake in the closing stages with a fierce low shot from inside the penalty area, boosting Chelsea’s confidence ahead of Sunday’s clash with Manchester City in the League Cup final at Wembley.
An early Zakhar Volkov own goal put Arsenal on level terms at the Emirates Stadium as the defender turned a low cross by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang into his own net in a frantic opening.
Shkodran Mustafi made it 2-0 with a thumping header from a Granit Xhaka corner and the Switzerland midfielder delivered another impressive set-piece for Sokratis Papastathopoulos to head home on the hour.
Goals by Simone Verdi and Adam Ounas sent Napoli on their way and Inter followed in their footsteps as Matias Vecino, Andrea Ranocchia, Ivan Perisic and Matteo Politano made light work of their return leg against Rapid.