English club Arsenal has confirmed that midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not travel to Baku for the Europa League final against Chelsea due to the concerns over his safety as a result of political tensions between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan.
A club statement read: “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.”
The decision has prompted Arsenal fans to make boycott calls against the final in Azerbaijan.
This is genuinely disgraceful. I hope there's a further statement to come from Arsenal about the fact this decision has had to be made, because it needs to be condemned in the strongest terms possible. https://t.co/aYTSHp0PmT
— arseblog (@arseblog) May 21, 2019
The Europa League crown will provide Unai Emery’s team a back-door entry into next season’s Champions League after finishing fifth in the Premier league.
If you can’t guarantee a player’s safety. How Are you going to protect the entire team?
— Arsenal Long Island (@Arsenal_LINY) May 21, 2019
Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny has said that Azerbaijan should not be allowed to host European finals after Mkhitaryan’s issue.
“I think UEFA needs to know about the different problems they can have with the politics in the country. When one country has a problem with another they should not give the final to that country” he added.
[…] It‘s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often for us players and I must admit, it hurts me a lot to miss it.I will be cheering my teammates on! Let’s bring it home @Arsenal ??????? #uel #final #arsenal #chelsea #AFC #COYG pic.twitter.com/gnDA6oyolw
— Henrikh Mkhitaryan (@HenrikhMkh) May 21, 2019
Popular Arsenal supporter James McNicholas – who runs Gunnerblog – tweeted from the blog’s account: “I would be more proud of my club for boycotting the Europa League Final than for winning it.”
I would be more proud of my club for boycotting the Europa League Final than for winning it.
— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) May 21, 2019
Travel limitations, number of ticket allocations and now Mkhitaryan will not be travelling over safety concerns for himself, his family and the potential tension it may bring to the rest of the squad. Disgraceful organisation UEFA, Baku simply not fit to host this final. #AFC
— Gunners.com (@Gunnersc0m) May 21, 2019
Uefa also came under fire for their mild response towards Arsenal’s demands for their player’s safety.
UEFA said in their response: “Working alongside Arsenal FC, UEFA sought and received assurances regarding the player’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country.
“As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club.
“While the club acknowledges the efforts that UEFA and the Azeri government have gone to in this matter, we respect the personal decision not to travel with the player.”
There are no diplomatic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of a long-standing conflict over the latter’s breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The region, which is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians, declared independence from Azerbaijan amid a 1988-94 war that killed some 30,000 people and displaced as many as 1 million.
Despite agreeing a cease fire in 1994 Azerbaijan does not allow foreign nationals of Armenian descent to enter the country due to this ongoing tension.