London (AFP) – Arsenal’s Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will miss Thursday’s Europa League clash with Qarabag in Azerbaijan due to diplomatic tensions between the country and his homeland.
Armenian citizens are currently banned from travelling to Azerbaijan due to the Nagorny Karabakh conflict, although special exceptions have been made in the past for professional athletes.
However, Arsenal confirmed to AFP they did not apply for the visa Mkhitaryan would have needed to enter the country.
“My work is football. I respect each person, I respect each people, I respect each culture, I respect each country. But I don’t know each situation in every country,” said Arsenal manager Unai Emery. “For me, he cannot play tomorrow.”
The issue could have more serious ramifications for Arsenal should the Gunners reach the final of the competition, which will be staged in Azerbaijani capital Baku.
Azerbaijan and Armenia have feuded over the Nagorny Karabakh region since Armenian separatists seized the territory in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives in the early 1990s.
A ceasefire was agreed in 1994 but the two countries remain locked in a bitter dispute with frequent exchanges of fire.
Mkhitaryan also did not travel to Azerbaijan with former club Borussia Dortmund for a Europa League match against Galaba FK three years ago.
However, Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov claimed Mkhitaryan was merely avoiding a hostile environment by not travelling.
“Until now a lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send (him),” Gurbanov said on the eve of the game.
“Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”
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