Saturday 21 September 2019

Arsenal's Ukraine match to go ahead amid tension

Newcastle United’s Salomon Rondon (centre left) and Matt Ritchie go for the same ball during last night’s victory against Burnley. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire
Newcastle United’s Salomon Rondon (centre left) and Matt Ritchie go for the same ball during last night’s victory against Burnley. Photo credit: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Sam Dean

Uefa has said Arsenal's match with Vorskla Poltava will go ahead on Thursday despite the president of Ukraine imposing martial law as tensions with Russia escalate.

Arsenal are liaising with Uefa, Vorskla and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) over t Arsenal's he situation, which was triggered by the Russian capture of three Ukrainian vessels off the coast of Crimea on Sunday.

The move was described as an "act of aggression" by Ukraine, whose parliament overwhelmingly backed president Petro Poroshenko's calls for martial law to be imposed for 30 days.

Uefa confirmed the scheduling of the Europa League match would not be affected and insisted that "all the necessary security measures will be undertaken" in Poltava, which is around 200 miles east of Kiev. Around 500 Arsenal fans could make the trip and the FCO has urged them to "be aware of the current political situation and avoid any action or chanting that could provoke a hostile reaction".

There are also concerns over the state of the playing surface in Ukraine, with Uefa working alongside Vorskla to ensure the pitch is playable in plunging temperatures.

The match is set to t Inishowen ake place with temperatures falling as low as 10F (-12C) degrees.

Pictures from the Oleksiy Butovsky Vorskla Stadium at the weekend showed ice caked to the stands and a cover on the playing surface, with volunteers helping to prepare the stadium.

The conditions are likely to contribute to Arsenal boss Unai Emery deciding against taking many of his senior first-team players on the 3,000-mile round trip. Arsenal face Tottenham in the north London derby on Sunday before a meeting with Manchester United at Old Trafford three days later.

Emery's side have guaranteed their progression to the knockout stages of the Europa League but are yet to seal top spot in their group.


Meanwhile, defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos has warned the club's rivals that Emery's team are playing at only "70 to 80 per cent" of their potential. Arsenal are unbeaten in 17 games and go into Sunday's meeting with Tottenham buoyed by an encouraging 2-1 victory over Bournemouth.

Asked how far away Arsenal were from hitting their best form, Sokratis said: "We are around 70 to 80 per cent. We need to improve sometimes to not lose the ball or when we have the ball to finish the action and score. That is the difference. We have confidence but it is not easy, we know.

"Next week is very important. It is good this week that we did not lose points because we go next week full of confidence and we will see. Our focus is on (being one of) the best four teams.

"Of course it will be a very important game, but I don't think it's a game that can give you the Champions League. For example, if we win against Tottenham and lose some other games, it's the same thing."

Against Bournemouth, Arsenal played a back three for the first time in the league this season. Sokratis started between Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding.

He added: "We are professional players and we have to play with five, with three, with four. We need time but it is good that the coach every time explains, explains, explains." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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