Arsenal have announced that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will have to stay at home when his team flies out to Azerbaijan to face Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku because of concerns about the political tension between Mkhitaryan’s native Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The ridiculous decision to choose Baku as the host city for the Europa League final has given Arsenal further grounds for disgruntlement because one of their most talented players has had to be withdrawn from a game for political reasons. Already, UEFA’s decision has angered fans because of the difficulty there is in travelling to Baku, let alone the insufficient number of tickets that have been given to both clubs for their fans to attend. Only 6,000 tickets have been given to each club at prices that are far above the usual levels.
After holding talks with Arsenal, Mkhitaryan said he would not travel to Azerbaijan for next week’s final because of his concerns about the conflict that currently exists between the country and Armenia, whom he represents at international level. This is not the kind of game that comes around very often in a player’s career, so being forced to miss it will be a bitter pill to swallow.
UEFA said they had received assurances about Mkhitaryan’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country and that a comprehensive security plan had been given to Arsenal, but why should a player need so much protection for simply wanting to represent the team that employs him.
The Azerbaijan government had previously said it would allow Mkhitaryan to play in the May 29 final against Chelsea – that was nice of them – but now the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan has called the decision by the player and Arsenal unwarranted, saying there was no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of the guarantees provided by Azerbaijan.
Arsenal have written to UEFA to vent their deep concerns about the situation involving Mkhitaryan, who has previously had to miss group games in Azerbaijan for both Arsenal and former club Borussia Dortmund.
The issue between the two countries revolves around Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Azerbaijan that has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since a war there ended in 1994.
International efforts to settle the conflict have been suspended and some neighbouring districts are under the control of those ethnic Armenian forces too. There are also relatively few flights to Baku from Western Europe, so why was none of this taken into account when choosing Azerbaijan as the host country.
Arsenal will play in its first European final for 13 years and hope to lift a first continental trophy since the 1994 European Cup Winners’ Cup success. Of course, the game has even greater importance because it gives the Gunners the chance to secure qualification for the Champions League next season after missing out on a top-four finish in the Premier League.