UEFA rearrange Arsenal's tie after fans protest over early kick-off
Uefa have rearranged Arsenal's Europa League round-of-32 home fixture against BATE Borisov after leading supporter groups said the governing body had "disrespected fans" by scheduling the match to kick off at 5pm.
Uefa had announced before yesterday's draw that the second leg of Arsenal's tie would be on Wednesday February 20, rather than in the regular Thursday night slot, and with a teatime kick-off.
Regulations do not allow two teams in the same city to play on the same day, and Chelsea were given priority to stage their knockout match on the Thursday because they won last season's FA Cup.
But within hours of the announcement, Uefa said the game had been pushed back to 5.55pm and moved to the Thursday - despite Chelsea's meeting with Malmo being scheduled for that evening.
The change came just hours after the Arsenal Supporters' Trust (AST) and the Arsenal Independent Supporters' Association had issued strong responses to the early kick-off.
In a statement, the AST said "football and TV seem to have no limits when it comes to disrespecting fans", while the AISA said that the early kick-off would "inevitably" lead to a reduced attendance.
The AST added: "The moving of the kick-off in the Europa League from 5pm to 5.55pm is, of course, a small improvement but it's still a ridiculous time for football to be played. Arsenal should continue to protest and, if that fails, ensure all fans who can't attend are refunded."
A Uefa spokesperson said: "Following today's draw and discussions with all parties involved, it was possible to resolve the city clash involving Chelsea and Arsenal. Consequently, both matches can take place in London on the same evening."
The first leg will take place a week before the meeting in London and Arsenal will be expected to comfortably defeat Borisov, the Belarusian champions.
The sides met in the group stages of the Europa League last season, with Arsenal winning 4-2 away from home and 6-0 at the Emirates.
Borisov returned to London this season to play Chelsea in their Europa League group, losing 3-1. Chelsea won 1-0 in the reverse fixture.
Unai Emery, the Arsenal head coach, has so far selected surprisingly strong teams in the Europa League, which he won three times in a row with Sevilla.
The tournament represents another possible avenue into the Champions League, with the winners earning a spot in Europe's premier competition.
Emery will hope that his defensive issues have been fixed by February after an absence of defenders cost his side in their 3-2 defeat by Southampton on Sunday.
An injury to full-back Hector Bellerin, who is out for "some weeks", has further stretched Arsenal's squad ahead of the busy festive period.
The Southampton loss was Arsenal's first defeat in 23 matches in all competitions but goalkeeper Bernd Leno has backed the side to begin another unbeaten run tomorrow, when they face Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup.
"After 22 games, you can lose a game so it is disappointing, but now nobody talks anymore about the unbeaten run and we can look forward," Leno said.
"We have on Wednesday another big game and maybe now we can start another unbeaten run." (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Europa League draw: Viktoria Plzen v Dinamo Zagreb; Brugge v FC Salzburg; Rapid Vienna v Inter Milan; Slavia Prague v Genk; Krasnodar v Bayer Leverkusen; FC Zurich v Napoli; Malmo v Chelsea; Shakhtar Donetsk v Eintracht Frankfurt; Celtic v Valencia; Rennes v Real Betis; Olympiacos v Dynamo Kiev; Lazio v Sevilla; Fenerbahce v Zenit St Petersburg; Sporting Lisbon v Villarreal; BATE Borisov v Arsenal; Galatasaray v Benfica
Ties to be played on February 14 with the second leg a week later on February 21.