Unai Emery says Arsenal will do everything to ensure Henrikh Mkhitaryan is part of the squad to face Chelsea in the Europa League final but that a resolution is yet to be found.
The Gunners are awaiting guarantees – not yet forthcoming – from UEFA that it will be safe for the Armenian, who scored in the final two years ago for Manchester United, to travel to Azerbaijan.
There are currently no diplomatic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan because of a longstanding conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region meaning our midfielder isn’t eligible for a visa. What’s more, there are genuine concerns that our midfielder’s presence in Baku could stoke anger from the locals.
After his side’s 3-1 win against Burnley on the final day of the season, Emery was asked if there had been any progress.
“It is a political issue but I don’t know well what the solution is,” he said. “But we want to play with Mkhitaryan. Today he worked very well and we are ready to do all we can do to play with him. I don’t know the possibility with the political issue.
“Really, I don’t know what the problem is between the two countries but we are going to do all we can to have Mkhitaryan there. This issue is not sporting. It is not in my hands. I don’t understand what the solution is.”
Mkhitaryan’s potential absence isn’t the only Baku-related issue causing the club a headache. After our win against Valencia, it was confirmed that the Arsenal and Chelsea would only be granted 6,000 tickets each for a stadium holding the best part of 69,000. UEFA later justified the paltry number by claiming the country’s infrastructure couldn’t cope with an influx from abroad.
Asked about UEFA’s decision to pick a location on the farthest edges of their association’s boundary, Emery said, “I don’t know exactly [the reasons behind] the decision to play in one place or another place.
“I played one Super Cup [against] Barcelona in Georgia once, in Tbilisi three years ago. It was the same then – two teams from Spain travelling to Georgia to play in the Super Cup. The problem is for the supporters.
“I prefer to play closer to England, because we are two English teams and can move a lot of supporters to be with us. Three years ago, with Sevilla, we played against Liverpool [in the Europa League final] in Switzerland.
“The stadium was full of our supporters and Liverpool supporters. It was amazing. I [haven’t really thought] about why they decided to play there. After, there are going to be 6,000 of our fans and 6,000 Chelsea fans. But the stadium has a capacity of 70,000.
“I think it’s going to be full, but [maybe not] with our fans and Chelsea’s fans.”
Honestly, we expected a more critical statement from Emery, but perhaps he’s not interested in ruffling feathers as his players turn their attention to the big game.