Azerbaijan FA: Henrikh Mkhitaryan's Safety 'Guaranteed' at Europa League Final

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2019

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05: Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Arsenal during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Brighton & Hove Albion at Emirates Stadium on May 5, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)
James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Arsenal midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan is "guaranteed" to be safe at the UEFA Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan, according to the Azerbaijan FA's general secretary Elkhan Mammadov. 

Mkhitaryan is an Armenia international and there is no diplomatic relationship between the two countries as a result of tension over the Nagorno-Karabakh region. As such, there has been speculation that the Gunners may opt to leave the player out of the travelling party for the showdown with Chelsea on May 29.

Speaking to Sam Dean of the Daily Telegraph, Mammadov said the Azerbaijan FA and UEFA have long considered the prospect of Arsenal making the final and the unique case of Mkhitaryan:

"Our government authorities provided guarantees to UEFA for Mkhitaryan to come to Baku, so there is no issue of security and safety.

"Even before Arsenal qualified for the final, we received a request from UEFA to provide the guarantees, our state authorities provided all the necessary security arrangements for Mkhitaryan to travel to Baku. All the safety and security is already guaranteed."

Amy Lawrence of the Guardian commented on the difficult situation for the former Manchester United and Borussia Dortmund star, noting how big a role he has played in the team's run to the final:

Amy Lawrence @amylawrence71

Having said that, Mkhitaryan has played in 11 of Arsenal's 14 Europa League games and played more minutes in this year's competition than Lacazette, Torreira, Ozil, Ramsey, Iwobi, Guendouzi. Since Arsenal raised it there is no update. There is something very wrong about all this.

According to Dean, Arsenal have yet to decide whether or not Mkhitaryan will be in the squad for the all-English encounter.

"The assurances are unlikely to convince Arsenal that including Mkhitaryan in the squad is worth the heightened risk, however," Dean said. "There were similar guarantees ahead of Arsenal’s group stage match in Baku earlier this season, when Mkhitaryan was left behind in London."

James Benge of Football.London provided further details regarding the conflict:

James Benge @jamesbenge

No mention in UEFA's statement that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will almost certainly not be able to travel to Baku because his safety cannot be guaranteed. Worth remembering that just over a year before Baku was given the final 30 soldiers died in clashes around Nagorno-Karabakh.

John Cross of the Daily Mirror said he has struggled to attain clarity over Mkhitaryan's safety from European football's governing body:

John Cross @johncrossmirror

For three days I’ve been asking Uefa about Henrikh Mkhitaryan and still no assurances on the player’s safety. Arsenal have asked for further assurances. None forthcoming. Absolutely outrageous. If Arsenal lose and he’s not played, what then?

In addition to the controversy surrounding the Arsenal midfielder, the choice of host city for the final and the ticket allocations to each club have drawn complaints.

The Gunners released a statement on their official website in which they said they're "bitterly disappointed" for supporters, who have been allocated just 6,000 tickets in the 68,700-seat Olympic Stadium; the same number has been allocated to Chelsea fans.

In the bulletin, the Gunners also reference the "travel challenges" that will face supporters coming from England for the game in Azerbaijan. According to Simon Johnson of the Evening Standard, only 3,000 tickets have been bought by Arsenal fans.