Saturday 25 May 2019

Mkhitaryan may miss final due to safety fears

Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Boyers
Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Boyers

Sam Dean

Arsenal are planning to leave Henrikh Mkhitaryan out of their squad for the Europa League final against Chelsea unless Uefa can provide assurances that the Armenian's presence in Azerbaijan will not affect their safety.

Mkhitaryan stayed in London for Arsenal's trip to Baku in the group stages due to security concerns related to diplomatic tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

A long-standing conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region has destroyed diplomatic relations between the countries, and Mkhitaryan has been forced to avoid Azerbaijan in recent years.

He also missed a Borussia Dortmund match there earlier in his career.

Arsenal said they were "hugely concerned" that Uefa's choice of venue could prevent one of their highest-paid players from playing.

Uefa has indicated in recent weeks that it would be willing to lean on the authorities in order to secure a visa for Mkhitaryan but Arsenal's concerns are over security and the safety of the squad in Baku. The club said they were yet to receive guarantees from the governing body that it would be safe.

"The safety and security of all our players is of paramount importance," an Arsenal spokesperson said.

"We are seeking guarantees from Uefa that it will be safe for Henrikh Mkhitaryan to travel to Baku for the Europa League final, which both Arsenal and Micki require for him to be included within our squad. Acceptable guarantees have not been received yet.

"We are of course hugely concerned that the location of the final could lead to Micki not being able to play in a European final."

Meanwhile, Maurizio Sarri may have put his Chelsea job back on the line after risking the wrath of owner Roman Abramovich by questioning the timing of the club's trip to the United States next week for a charity match against New England Revolution.

At the end of five days in which Sarri has secured Champions League qualification and reached a second final of the season, the Italian could have undone his good work by claiming next Wednesday's match, dubbed 'The Final Whistle on Hate', will disrupt preparations for the Europa League final on May 29.

Abramovich and New England Revolution owner Robert Kraft came up with the idea for the game in light of a global rise in anti-Semitism, and both have pledged to donate $1 million (€890,000) of their personal funds, along with the proceeds of the match, to organisations that tackle discrimination.

Chelsea executives were dismayed to find out Sarri had said, "Unfortunately, we have to go to the US to play a match", in response to questions about qualifying for the final of the Europa League following the penalty shoot-out success over Eintracht Frankfurt.

Asked if the charity match was a problem for him, Sarri said: "As a man I am very happy to go there. As a coach, of course, I am bit worried because I know the team now needs rest."

Meanwhile, 32-year-old defender David Luiz has signed a new two-year contract to keep him at Chelsea until 2021. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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