Unai Emery was reluctant to discuss the reasons behind Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s absence from Arsenal’s squad for their Europa League meeting with Qarabag.
Diplomatic tensions exist between Azerbaijan and Mkhitaryan’s native Armenia following a long-
standing conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.
This can lead to visa issues for Armenians, although there are often exceptions made for sportsmen and entertainers.
Press Association Sport understands Arsenal did not look into the application process for Mkhitaryan and instead were happy for the player to remain in London.
The 29-year-old did not travel to face Azerbaijan Premier League side Gabala while with Borussia Dortmund in 2015, although he was told by UEFA that he would be granted a visa if we wished to
make the journey.
It is expected he would have again had no trouble in entering Azerbaijan this time around, had Arsenal opted to complete the process.
Gunners head coach Emery would not go in depth on the issue, despite being repeatedly asked about Mkhitaryan’s absence by local journalists at his pre-match press conference.
“He cannot travel here,” Emery said.
“We are here, the players with the best mentality and preparation and possibility to play tomorrow.”
Pushed on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Emery was keen to keep everything football-related.
“My work is football,” he added.
“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. For me, he cannot play tomorrow.
“There is respect for ‘Mkhi’ and respect for you. Today we are here with the opportunity to play
Ahead of Emery’s press conference at the Baku Olympic Stadium, his Qarabag counterpart Gurban Gurbanov had claimed Arsenal had “saved” Mkhitaryan and were “afraid” of the pressure exerted on him by playing in front of a 68,000 capacity crowd – with the visitors taking only 200 supporters.
“I didn’t want politics to interrupt the sport but we could not do anything on this issue,” he said.
So who's not travelled to Baku? 🇦🇿
We've got the latest ahead of tomorrow's #UEL clash 🔻— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 3, 2018
“But Arsenal Football Club tried to save this player but it is not a matter for us if he is coming or not.
“If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time, but until now a lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send (him).
“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.”
Emery has brought a strong 21-man squad to Baku but both Aaron Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have also stayed behind.
Ramsey was given special dispensation to miss the trip as his wife is expecting twins, while Aubameyang has been ill.
- Press Association