May 22 – The decision by Arsenal’s Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan not to travel to Baku in Azerbaijan to play in the Europa League final against Chelsea on May 29 has been described by the Azerbaijan FA (AFFA) as an “unwarranted decision”.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have no diplomatic relations as a result of a conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan generally refuses foreign nationals of Armenian descent entry to the country.
Mkhitaryan has previously not travelled for UEFA club matches in Azerbaijan with Dortmund in 2015 and with Arsenal in the Europa League last October.
An AFFA spokesperson 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.”
An Arsenal statement 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.”
UEFA responsed in a statement saying: “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.”
Meanwhile the Azerbaijan FA says it is determined not to let the situation cast a political shadow over the hosting of the event, saying: “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.”
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