Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang says Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s absence from Arsenal’s squad for the Europa League final further fuels his determination to win the competition.
The Gabon international has a long-standing friendship with the Armenian – the duo played alongside each other at Borussia Dortmund before reuniting at the Emirates in January 2018 – and is frustrated that political circumstances will force the midfielder to sit out the occasion.
With Champions League qualification on the line and a first European trophy in 25 years up for grabs, a showdown with London-rivals Chelsea in Baku was always going to be a highly-charged occasion. Now Auba says he has extra motivation.
“We know it is a big shame but we respect his decision,” he told the Evening Standard.
“It is not easy for him to go there because of political problems. It is a big shame but now we have one more motivation to win.
“Everybody here wants to be back in the Champions League. That’s been the target since the beginning of the season.”
Speaking at a pre-final media day at London Colney, Alex Iwobi shed some light on when Mkhitaryan informed his teammates of his decision.
“He’s contributed a lot for us to get to the final,” said Iwobi. “We’re very upset. We want him to come but it is what it is. We’re going to fight and hopefully win the trophy, not just for us but for him.
“He’s taken the decision that he can’t go, it was very upsetting to hear at the start of the training session but we have to not let it distract us. We now focus on the final.”
Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal and managing director Vinai Venkatesham have all gone public with their annoyance at the situation, the latter labelling it ‘unacceptable’ and calling for a face-to-face meeting with UEFA.
Adding his voice to the debate, Petr Cech says the right to host the final should never have been given to Azerbaijan.
“Politics and sport should always stay apart,” he told beIN Sports.
“Sport brings people together and you should use it as a tool to overcome problems. When you choose the places for finals, there should be certain criteria, [one of] which should be everybody able to go without any problems.
“I feel sorry for him [Mkhitaryan] but we can make him feel happy if we win the trophy, because he played a big part in us reaching the final. It has been a very hard decision. Every player wants to be part of a team that plays in a final. He is not injured, he is fit, he helped us to go all the way.”