'Hurt' Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final
Henrikh Mkhitaryan will miss Arsenal's Europa League final against Chelsea after the club confirmed that the Armenian will not be travelling to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
Arsenal had asked UEFA to provide assurances that it would be safe for Mkhitaryan to travel amid ongoing tensions between the two countries. The midfielder was forced to miss previous games played in Azerbaijan for Arsenal and his former club, Borussia Dortmund.
Sources told ESPN FC in April that Mkhitaryan and Arsenal would be given the full support of UEFA in order to secure a visa that would have allowed him to travel to Baku. The Azerbaijan Football Association had also assured Arsenal that Mkhitaryan would have no problem in travelling to country's capital.
But Mkhitaryan has now taken the decision not to travel with the squad after discussing the issue with his family.
"It's bad news, but we cannot do anything about this issue," Arsenal coach Unai Emery said. "It's a very personal decision and we need to respect him. We have to understand the political problems, but I have massive respect.
"He wants to play with the team, but he spoke to his family and decided not to go."
Asked whether the match should have been moved from Baku, Emery added: "This is only for UEFA. We cannot do anything about that.
"I hope the stadium will be full with a lot of supporters -- maybe football supporters, maybe from Arsenal and Chelsea, but I want to play this with a big atmosphere and big emotion. But we cannot play in London."
In a statement released on Tuesday, Arsenal said: "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.
"We're also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer's career.
"Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend."
Writing on Instagram, Mkhitaryan said: "Having considered all the current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the Europa League Final.
"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!"
UEFA responded in a statement released to Press Association Sport. "Working alongside Arsenal, UEFA sought and received assurances regarding the player's safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country," it said.
"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."
A spokesperson for the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) said: "We are disappointed to see the statement from Arsenal that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with his team to Baku to participate at the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea next Wednesday.
"We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken, as we understand, collectively by Arsenal, the player and his family. Whilst we recognise the right to make a personal decision not to travel, we would like to reiterate that as the host country Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by UEFA to ensure the personal safety of Mr Mkhitaryan.
"There is no reason whatsoever to put in question the seriousness of these guarantees provided by Azerbaijan. Over the past decade a large number of Armenian athletes have taken part in various international sports events in Azerbaijan without any issues. Finally, we believe that this regretful decision will not affect in any manner the quality and the attraction of this great match. We look forward to welcoming both teams in Baku shortly."
The Europa League final will be played at the Olympic Stadium in Baku on May 29.