Arsenal mid-fielder and captain of Armenia’s National Soccer team Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not participate in the Europa League final match against Chelsea on May 29 in Baku, Arsenal officially announced on Tuesday.
Fears for the 30-year-old Mkhitaryan’s safety while in Baku were compounded last week when Azerbaijan refused to grant entry visas to a slew of Arsenal fans who wanted to attend the match.
“Having considered all current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the Europa League final,” said Mkhitaryan in a social media post. “It’s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often and I admit, it hurts a lot to miss it.”
This will be the third match in Baku that Mkhitaryan will skip over concerns for his safety.
“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea,” Arsenal said in a statement referring to its communication with European soccer’s governing body.
“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 statement added.
“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,” said the statement.
“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,” Arsenal explained in the statement.
BBC reported that UEFA expressed regret to Arsenal about its decision, concluding, however, that it respected the decision the team made.
“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,” said the UEFA in its statement.
“Working alongside Arsenal FC, UEFA sought and received assurances regarding the player’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country,” explained the UEFA in its response statement. “As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club.”
Last week Arsenal had asked the UEFA to explain the process of choosing Baku as a venue for the finals, citing the ongoing security issues that are continuously tied to matches scheduled in Azerbaijan.
In its coverage of the news, the London-based The Independent flat out said that Baku should not have been chosen as the venue for the match.
“Baku is not fit for purpose in almost any sense. It should be stripped of its games in Euro 2020 next season. It should really be stripped of the 2019 Europa League final, except so many involved seem to accept it is already too late for that,” said The Independent.
In her press gaggle, Armenia’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson also commented on the Mkhitaryan situation, saying that Azerbaijan had an “opportunity to show how real it is to prepare the people for peace.”
“Manifestations of racism and xenophobia in sport should not take place,” said the Foreign Ministry Spokesperon Anna Naghdalyan.
“In this regard, the refusal of Azerbaijan to provide such guarantees and a ban on the entry of alleged fans of Armenian origin is nothing but a new manifestation of racism, and this calls into question the holding of similar international events in Azerbaijan,” she added.
Of course, official Baku sought to quell the matter with the Azerbaijani Soccer Association expressing disappointment over Mkhitaryan missing the match, calling the decision “unwarranted,” and saying “Azerbaijan has provided all the necessary guarantees required by Uefa to ensure the personal safety of Mr. Mkhitaryan.”
Azerbaijan’s Ambassador to the United Kingdom also chimed in about the issue by trying to shift the blame on Arsenal and Mkhitaryan, telling Sky Sports on Monday that there was no cause for concern.
“I would say [to Mkhitaryan] ‘you are a professional athlete, you are a footballer, and a class A footballer,’ so let’s make sure this is a class A event if our purpose is to make a great final,” Baku’s envoy to the U.K. Tahir Taghizadeh told Sky Sports.
“If our purpose is to play political games around it, that is something different, but I hope it is not, because you are being paid as a footballer, not as a politician, so let’s leave other issues aside,” he added.