Arsenal will be one player down for the May 29 Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku, Azerbaijan. It’s not due to suspension, injury or illness, but due to safety concerns.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, one of Arsenal’s most-used infielders, has agreed to stay home and sit out the Europa League final. Aresnal announced the decision on Tuesday in a statement posted to the team’s official website.
“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea.
We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party.
We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.”
The concerns for Mkhitaryan’s safety stem from his nationality and where the final is taking place. Mkhitaryan is from Armenia, and Azerbaijan has been in conflict with Armenia since 1988, when Armenia made a claim on Azerbaijan territory. A war erupted, which ended in 1994. There are no diplomatic relations between the two countries, and Armenia still occupies some territory. Armenians are one of the most vulnerable groups in Azerbaijan.
Arsenal had made its safety concerns known to the Union of European Football Associations in recent weeks, since the UEFA was responsible for choosing Baku as the location for the final. The UEFA, Azerbaijani soccer authorities, and the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry gave Arsenal and Mkhitaryan assurances of safety, but that wasn’t enough for Arsenal to be comfortable with Mkhitaryan traveling there.
With the two countries still in conflict (a cease fire has reportedly been violated numerous times over the past several weeks) and the safety of Mkhitaryan still in question, Mkhitaryan and Arsenal made the tough decision to leave him at home while the rest of the team travels to Baku for the final.
There are many parts of this story that are disappointing. Arsenal will be down an important player in the Europa League final. Mkhitaryan will have to miss it entirely, unable to even travel with the team. But most disappointing is that it UEFA could have avoided this debacle entirely, since it has happened before. Mkhitaryan had to stay home for the same reasons when Arsenal played in Baku less than a year ago. Yet the UEFA chose Baku as the location for the final anyway.
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