When Arsenal takes on Chelsea a week from Wednesday in the Europa League final, it'll be without the services of midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan -- and it has nothing to do with his fitness and everything to do with his safety. The Gunners announced on Tuesday that Mkhitaryan will not travel with the club to Baku, Azerbaijan, the site of the Europa League final, because of safety concerns over the political tensions between his native country Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Here's the statement from Arsenal:
"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.
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.
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.
Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.
Mkhitaryan took to Twitter to address his disappointment in not being able to join his teammates for the final of a major European competition.
[...] It‘s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often for us players and I must admit, it hurts me a lot to miss it.I will be cheering my teammates on! Let’s bring it home @Arsenal 🏆💪🏼💪🏼💪🏼 #uel #final #arsenal #chelsea #AFC #COYG pic.twitter.com/gnDA6oyolw— Henrikh Mkhitaryan (@HenrikhMkh) May 21, 2019
Armenia and Azerbaijan were part of the Transcaucasian Federation, but after World War I, the region was divided into modern day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The two nations have been at odds ever since, and in April of 2016, they opened fire on one another, escalating a war over the land-locked mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh in Azerbaijan. Here's more from BBC:
There are no diplomatic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of a longstanding conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region. Azerbaijan usually does not allow foreign nationals of Armenian descent to enter the country.
Fearing for his safety, the player won't make the trip for the club's biggest game of the season on May 29 -- stream the Europa League final via fuboTV (Try for free). Having failed to qualify for the Champions League next season through the Premier League, the Gunners have to win this one to make it to next season's competition. A loss to Chelsea in the final at Baku would keep Arsenal out of the Champions League but in the Europa League.
It's certainly a blow to the team's depth, but more so it has to be devastating for him overall as a professional. The Gunners will miss him, but more importantly he misses what could be the best day of his career for no fault of his own.