Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan announced on Tuesday that he will not be traveling with his teammates for the UEFA Europa League final next week. ”Having considered all current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the Europa League final,” explained Mkhitaryan. “It’s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often and I admit, it hurts a lot to miss it.”
Mkhitaryan, an Armenian international, will skip the trip to Baku, Azerbaijan because of personal safety concerns. Due to political tensions between these two countries, Azerbaijan does not normally allow foreign nationals of Armenian descent to enter their country. In fact, the Arsenal midfielder has previously opted not to travel to Baku for matches in the past, both with the Gunners and with Borussia Dortmund.
Following the announcement by the player, Arsenal released their own statement regarding the situation. “We have written to UEFA expressing our deep concerns about this situation,” said the club. “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 traveling party.”
“Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective,” the statement continued. “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.”
It is difficult to understand how UEFA can allow a match, especially of this magnitude, to be played in a place where personal safety cannot be guaranteed to everyone involved. Whether it is fans or the actual players, safety should always be the number one concern. Although some have criticized UEFA for choosing Baku as a host city because it is either “too far” or “not rich in football history,” the only blunder by UEFA in this case is the fact that certain people cannot travel to the city out of fear for their lives.
Mkhitaryan missing out on the match is a significant blow for Arsenal. The midfielder was the club’s third-leading scorer on the season. Though he has only started about half of his team’s matches since the beginning of March, Mkhitaryan has been used much like a closer in baseball. In four of Arsenal’s last five Europa League games, he has been brought on in the second half to help finish off these matches with his balance of energy and creativity. This strategy has paid off for head coach Unai Emery.
UEFA’s decision to pick Baku to host the Europa League final ultimately handcuffs one of the finalists, which in turn gives an advantage to the other club. Choosing host cities need to be less about monetary gain and more about ensuring a safe, fun, and inclusive match. Ironically enough, the hashtag #EqualGame is currently displayed on the official UEFA Twitter account.
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