Arsenal would be missing out on Henrikh Mkhitaryan in Europa League fixture against Qarabag FK in Azerbaijan. The reason isn’t injury or personal issues but a geopolitical one.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have no diplomatic relations due to dispute of the control of Nagorno-Karabakh region.
Due to this the Armenian’s visa wasn’t processed and thus he had to stay back while the team traveled to the windy capital city of Baku. By procedure and norms it’s the sole responsibility of UEFA to support players in order to get visa and other required documents. They could have procured the visa for the midfielder but it turned out to be a decision taken by Arsenal and Mkhitaryan to sit this one out due to ‘safety concerns’.
This isn’t the first time Mkhitaryan was barred from travelling to Baku; while playing for Borrusia Dortmund in 2015, he didn’t join the team in their fixture against the Azerbaijani side Gabala FK in a similar Europa League fixture.
Unai Emery chose not to comment much on this geopolitical issue. He said:
“My work is football. I respect each person, I respect each people, I respect each culture, I respect each country, but I don’t know each situation in every country.
“For me, he cannot play tomorrow. There is respect for Mkhi and respect for you. Today we are here with the opportunity to play well.”
The Europa League final will also be held in Baku. When asked if the Armenian international would play in the final, the Spaniard cut the reporter short and said:
“It’s a long time for us to arrive at the final.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Aaron Ramsey were left at for this 2,500 mile trip to Azerbaijan. Aubameyang was sick on Monday and Tuesday, and didn’t report to training either. He would, however, be fit play in the Premier League fixture. As for Ramsey, he is staying back to be with his wife who is pregnant and expecting soon.
Emery has brought Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette to Baku hinting a possible match call up. Due to the hamstring issue of Petr Cech, Bernd Leno is expected to start instead and also be a familiar face in the Premier League.
The Gunners are currently at the top of the Group E after a 4-2 win against Vorskla Poltava.