Why Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan could miss group stage match against FK Qarabag and the Europa League final

Armenian international Mkhitaryan could be denied a visa to play in Azerbaijan as a result of the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict

Luke Brown
Friday 31 August 2018 18:55
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Arsenal 2018/19 Premier League profile

Unai Emery faces a possible selection headache over Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan, after Arsenal were drawn in the same Europa League group as Azerbaijani side FK Qarabag.

Mkhitaryan was forced to miss a previous European trip to the country while at Borussia Dortmund in 2015, because of ‘safety concerns’ relating to a conflict between Azerbaijan and his native Armenia.

Arsenal are due to meet Qarabag in Baku on 4 November. The 2018/19 Europa League final is also due to be staged in the city, which could pose further problems for Arsenal should they qualify.

On Friday the club said they would assess the “safety and security” of the entire squad before deciding on whether to include Mkhitaryan in their matchday squad or not. “Safety and security of all our players and staff is always a top priority. We will be looking into this situation, talk to the player and make a decision after that,” they said in a statement.

Uefa meanwhile pledged to support any visa application made on behalf of the player.

“It is a standard procedure for Uefa to send letters of support to associations, clubs or embassies in order to obtain visas for players in order to be able to travel to another country and play in Uefa matches,” a spokesperson told The Independent.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was left at home by Dortmund in 2015

The Independent has contacted the Azerbaijan embassy for comment and is awaiting a response.

There are currently no diplomatic relations between Azerbaijan and Armenia owing to the ongoing Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The region, along with some neighbouring territory, has been under the control of Armenian soldiers and local ethnic Armenian forces since a 1994 ceasefire ended a bloody six-year war. There have been occasional outbreaks of violence since.

Arsenal have also been drawn alongside Sporting Lisbon and Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava, in a group that involves almost 10,000 miles of travel. However Emery — who won the tournament three years in a row while at Sevilla — has pledged to make the Europa League a priority.

“We want to go far in this competition,” Emery said. “Each match is different and each match involves a lot of travel. For some, the travel is very long but it’s like that.

“The adaptation for these three teams needs to be positive and we need to face them with ambition and our interest to do well in the competition.”

The Arsenal manager also suggested he would be experimenting with his line-up when Arsenal’s squad return from next week’s international break.

“When you play two matches in a week, you have more time to prepare for the matches, to prepare the players physically," he said.

The final will be staged in Baku, Azerbaijan

“When you play three matches in a week, it’s hard. There’s less time to prepare for the match and work physically, but we want it like that. We want to play three matches in a week with the league and the cups.

“After the international break, we are going to play a lot of matches. In this moment, we are not playing every player in this squad because we’re only playing one match every week. But I am sure we’re going to use a lot of players after this international break.”

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