Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan will stay home when his team plays Chelsea in next week's Europa League final in Azerbaijan. Reports said the Armenian player feared for his safety on the pitch.
English Premier League club Arsenal said Tuesday that Henrikh Mkhitaryan won't be part of the squad taking on Chelsea in next week's Europa League final in Baku.
Long-running tensions between the 30-year-old's native Armenia and host Azerbaijan reportedly sparked concerns about his security.
"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," Arsenal said in a statement.
"Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective."
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a bitter dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region since Armenian separatists seized the territory in the early 1990s.
'It hurts me a lot'
Arsenal earlier criticized the decision by European football's governing body, UEFA, to hold the May 29 final in Baku Olympic Stadium, saying it would be difficult for fans to attend and would put Mkhitaryan's appearance in doubt.
UEFA said it had worked with Arsenal and done everything possible to ensure Mkhitaryan's safety in Baku. "While the club acknowledges the efforts that UEFA and the Azeri government have gone to in this matter, we respect the personal decision not to travel with the player," a UEFA statement said.
It's not the first time political tensions have led to the midfielder staying home. In October, he missed a Europa League fixture against Azerbaijani side Qarabag. He also did not travel to Azerbaijan with former club Borussia Dortmund to play against Galaba FK in 2015.
Mkhitaryan, who has scored six goals for Arsenal this season, expressed his disappointment on Twitter: "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," he wrote.
"I will be cheering my team mates on! Let's bring it home."
Mkhitaryan captains Armenia's national side and previously won the Europa League crown in 2017 with Manchester United.
nm/rt (Reuters, AFP)