Arsenal's fans and players face an arduous 5,000 mile round trip to Baku next week as they look to win their first Europa League title. However that task has just got slightly harder after it was confirmed by the club that Armenian international Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not travel to the final. A statement on their website read:
“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.
“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.”
Mkhitaryan is not able to travel with his side because his nation, Armenia, are engaged in an ongoing conflict with Azerbaijan, known as the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
The disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region straddles the south-eastern border of Armenia and the south-western edge of Azerbaijan. Hostilities between the two nations have been rumbling on since the outbreak of war in the late 1980s, and have scarcely ceased fully since, and there have been deaths of soldiers along the border.
There are no diplomatic relations between the two states over their opposing positions on the future of the region and who should rule it and therefore it’s very difficult for an Armenian citizen to gain the requisite visa to visit the country.
This is not the first time Mkhitaryan has not been able to travel to Azerbaijan. He missed the away tie against Qarabag in the group stages and also when he was playing for Borussia Dortmund, missed a European away game against Gabala due to what his chairman at the time described as “safety concerns”.