Football

Unai Emery respects Henrikh Mkhitaryan's decision to skip final

Arsenal manager Unai Emery said he respects midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan's decision to skip the Europa League final against Chelsea in Baku amid concerns over the player's safety, but host country Azerbaijan said such fears are unfounded.

Armenia international Mkhitaryan's participation in the match had been in doubt due to the ongoing conflict between Azerbaijan and his native country.

Arsenal had been working with Uefa over securing their player's welfare, but the club said they agreed collectively with Mkhitaryan that he would not be in their squad for the May 29 final.

"It's bad news, but we cannot do anything for this issue," Emery said on Tuesday.

PERSONAL

"I spoke this morning with Mkhitaryan. It's a very personal decision. He wants to play... but they spoke, both family and him, and decided to not go... I cannot push him to come with us. I don't understand the political problems but I must respect (his decision)."

Uefa said a "comprehensive security plan" was in place to ensure Mkhitaryan's safety in Baku.

"Working alongside Arsenal , Uefa sought and received assurances regarding the player's safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country," European football's governing body said in a statement.

"As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club. While the club acknowledges the efforts that Uefa and the Azeri government have gone to in this matter, we respect the personal decision not to travel with the player."

The Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (Affa) said in a statement that it saw no reason for the decision.

"We very much regret this unwarranted decision taken, as we understand, collectively by Arsenal, the player and his family," it said.

The statement added that Azerbaijan had provided all the necessary guarantees required by Uefa to ensure Mkhitaryan's safety.

Arsenal defender Stephan Lichtsteiner said that Mkhitaryan will be a big miss but "we understand his decision because it is dangerous for him".

The Gunners expressed their disappointment last week over the selection of Baku as the host city for the showpiece event, given the logistical problems faced by supporters for a near 9,700-kilometre round trip from London. - REUTERS

Football