Wednesday 17 July 2019

Mkhitaryan security fears over Arsenal's Azerbaijan trip

Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: PA
Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Photo: PA

Sam Dean

Henrikh Mkhitaryan may be unable to play for Arsenal in their Europa League away match against Qarabag FK because of political tensions between Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The Armenia international could also miss the Europa League final - if Arsenal progress that far in the competition - because the final will be held in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.

There has been a long-standing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, and in 2016 at least 200 people were killed in clashes between the two nations.

Mkhitaryan did not travel to Azerbaijan with Borussia Dortmund in 2015 because of security concerns, despite the Azerbaijani embassy saying he would be granted a visa on arrival. Hans-Joachim Watzke, the Dortmund CEO, said at the time that Mkhitaryan was "not upset to stay behind".

Arsenal will travel to Qarabag for their second match in this season's Europa League on October 4.

The trip to Azerbaijan will present Unai Emery and his players with a 5,000-mile round-trip in between Premier League meetings with Watford and Fulham.

Arsenal's other opponents in Group E are Sporting Lisbon and Ukraine's Vorskla Poltava.

In total, they will travel 10,000 miles in the group stages alone as Emery looks to win the competition for the fourth time in his managerial career, having triumphed with Sevilla in three consecutive seasons from 2014 to 2016.

Chelsea have been drawn in Group L alongside Greek side PAOK Salonika, Belarusian team BATE Borisov and Vidi of Hungary.

Meanwhile, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers admitted he had to send Moussa Dembele off the training pitch to protect the harmony of his squad ahead of tomorrow's Old Firm derby.

Dembele arrived for training after spending much of the morning on social media outlining his frustration over a blocked move to Lyon, and the 22-year-old walked off the field after about 15 minutes following a discussion with Rodgers.

The Celtic boss said: "It is very important that I protect the environment as well. It was best for him to go inside and let the others work."

Dembele sat out Thursday's Europa League win over Suduva following negotiations between Celtic and Lyon and he looks set to miss Rangers' visit.

Europa League

Group B: Salzburg, Celtic, RB Leipzig, Rosenborg

Group E: Arsenal, Sporting Lisbon, Qarabag (Aze), Vorskla Poltava (Ukr)

Group G: Villarreal, Rapid Vienna, Spartak Moscow , Rangers

Group L: Chelsea, PAOK Saloniki (Gre), BATE Borisov, Vidi (Hun)

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