Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not travel to Baku where the Gunners are set to face Chelsea in the Europa League final, the club have confirmed.
With political tensions between his country and Azerbaijan rising, there have been heavy concerns over the safety of the Armenian on the potential trip. He has already missed the away game against Qarabag in the group stage of the competition because of the problem, and he will now miss the final as well.
Mkhitaryan received public assurances from the Azerbaijan ambassador in the UK that he would be perfectly safe in Baku if he went there as a professional footballer – to play football. He did warn, however, that the situation would be different should the attacking midfielder go there to “play the issue”.
It is a sad state of affairs when politics get mixed up with sports. Liverpool had a similar problem with Xherdan Shaqiri when they traveled to face Red Star in Belgrade in the group stages of the Champions League this season after the Swiss international, along with Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka, used politically provoking gestures to taunt Serbian fans in the World Cup in Russia last summer. Shaqiri didn’t travel and Liverpool sorely missed his influence on the pitch in a game they unexpectedly lost by 2-0. Let’s hope Arsenal don’t suffer the same fate in Baku.
In the statement on the club’s official website, Arsenal said that they had written to UEFA about the situation stating the fact that Mkhitaryan had been a vital part of the team in the run to the Europa League final. They’ve explored all the options of Mkhitaryan going to Baku, but after consulting the player and his family, they have collectively agreed to leave him out of the traveling party.
He will, however, still be a part of the team’s preparations for the game.