Emery remains coy on decision to leave out star Arsenal man for EL clash

Oli Fisher
LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 20: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's third goal with Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Arsenal during the UEFA Europa League Group E match between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava at Emirates Stadium on September 20, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images)

Arsenal head coach Unai Emery refused to be drawn into the reasons behind the decision to leave Henrikh Mkhitaryan at home for the Europa League match against Qarabag.

Diplomatic tensions exist between Azerbaijan and Mkhitaryan’s native Armenia following a long-standing conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

Mkhitaryan 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.

Press Association Sport understands the same agreement would have applied this time around but that the club decided it was not necessary to undertake any application on behalf of the player.

Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov claimed the Gunners had “saved” Mkhitaryan and were “afraid” of the pressure exerted on him by playing in front of a 68,000 capacity crowd at the Baku Olympic Stadium

Emery though, would not go into depth on the issue, despite being repeatedly asked about Mkhitaryan’s absence by the Azerbaijani 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 well.”

Emery brought a strong 21-man squad to Baku, including the likes of Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.


He did however, leave Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at home along with Aaron Ramsey and explained the reasons behind it.

Asked about who had not made the 2,500-mile trip, Emery replied: “I explained first, for Mkhitaryan, why he cannot play tomorrow.

“Monday and Tuesday, Aubameyang was sick and he cannot travel to play tomorrow.

“Aaron Ramsey asked me if he can stay in London because his wife is pregnant and they are waiting on the doctors.”

Emery made several alterations to his side for the opening Group E victory over Vorskla Poltava and is likely to shake things up again here.

He did confirm that, with Petr Cech out for a month with a hamstring problem, Bernd Leno will start in goal.

“The best idea is to think only of the match tomorrow and with the respect for this competition because we want, at the end, to finish first in the group,” he said.

“We want to win tomorrow with the best players for playing. We are very happy with Leno and I want to then give him confidence to continue playing.

“Emi Martinez also can play. Tomorrow we will tell the players the first XI but today I want every player thinking that they will play tomorrow to help us to win this match.”


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