Qarabag boss says Arsenal have spared star from political pounding

Qarabag head coach Gurban Gurbanov believes Arsenal have “saved” Henrikh Mkhitaryan from the pressure of playing in front of a large crowd in Azerbaijan by leaving the forward at home.

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.

A similar situation has occurred this time round and it’s understood the 29-year-old will be remaining in London as his team-mates travel for their Europa League match.

Speaking on the eve of the contest Gurbanov, who also manages the Azerbaijan national team, explained why he feels Mkhitaryan will not be playing on Thursday night.

“I didn’t want politics to interrupt the sport but we could not do anything on this issue,” he said.

“But Arsenal Football Club tried to save this player but it is not a matter for us if he is coming or not.

“If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time, but until now a lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send (him).

“Arsenal may be afraid that in front of 60,000 Azerbaijani fans, Mkhitaryan has some pressure and that is why they didn’t send Mkhitaryan.”

Qarabag have been the team to beat in Azerbaijan in recent years, lifting the league title for the last five seasons.

But they have struggled in European competition, as their record against English opposition suggests.

Tottenham faced Qarabag in the Europa League in 2015, winning 1-0 in Baku before securing a 3-1 victory at White Hart Lane.

Last season, Gurbanov’s side were drawn in the same Champions League group as Chelsea and suffered a 4-0 home defeat and a 6-0 thrashing at Stamford Bridge.

“Tomorrow’s match we are against one of the best squads in England and the Premier League is one of the best five leagues,” added Gurbanov.

“I have several times mentioned the big teams that come to Azerbaijan and it is good for the image of Azerbaijan and Azerbaijani football.

“Our fans pay great attention to those types of games, we have lots of fans and in the future there will be more fans of Azerbaijan football.

“It is not the first time we play against a big team, we have several times. We want to make the fans happy with not only a victory but with our game and I hope we do our best.”


The best Gunners news direct to your Facebook timeline: Like our dedicated Arsenal Facebook page.