Henrikh Mkhitaryan slammed for making 'political statement' by refusing to travel to Baku
The Gunners are due to face Chelsea in the contest on May 29, but Mkhitaryan will stay at home in London.
Mkhitaryan has cited fears over his safety behind his reasoning not to play in the match, as a result of political tension between his native Armenia and hosts of the final, Azerbaijan.
But the UK ambassador for Azerbaijan, Tahir Taghizade, has blasted Mkhitaryan over the decision, and claimed the Gunners star is merely making a statement.
Speaking to TalkSport , Taghizade said: “Honestly, there is a concern here that what Mkhitaryan has done is not connected to his ethnicity or anything he’s doing as a pro footballer, but there is an issue.
“He has visited Nagorno-Karabakh, an occupied portion of Azerbaijan, at least once and that was an unsanctioned visit.
“Those people are usually black-listed in Azerbaijan, which means they are not able to get a visa or travel to Azerbaijan.
“But in this case, Mkhitaryan’s case has been settled and there is no issue whatsoever.
“There is absolutely no problem for Azerbaijan to receive Mkhitaryan and to provide for his physical safety and security. His physical safety is assured by every word I say.
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)
“It’s ultimately his decision, but if we are looking for reasons to justify a decision that maybe longer in the making, that’s something different.”
Mkhitaryan released a statement on Tuesday, after stating he feared for his safety and that of his teammates if he played in the showpiece event.
He said: “Having considered all current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the Europa League final.
“It’s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often and I admit, it hurts a lot to miss it.”
(Image: Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Arsenal will now head to Baku without the 30-year-old, who has been a regular in their Europa League campaign this season.
Taghizade admitted it was a blow that the former Dortmund man would miss the final, but questioned the motives behind his withdrawal.
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“Our reaction? The right word would be disappointment,” Taghizade said.
“Obviously that’s his decision – his, his family’s and the club’s – but we are disappointed in it.
(Image: Action Images via Reuters)
“We did our utmost to assure his safety would be guaranteed and the safety of anybody travelling to Baku, as well as the fans, team crews and other players.”
“Do I think he is making a political statement? I am afraid so.”
The match has been a hot point of conversation ever since both English sides reached the final, with several criticisms levied at UEFA for opting to stage the event in Baku in the first place.
Both sides only received 6,000 tickets each for their supporters, but many are set to boycott the match due to expensive travel costs and difficulties obtaining visas.
(Image: Stuart MacFarlane)
With Taghizade eager for the country to put on a good show, he revealed he would happily speak to Arsenal and Mkhitaryan to try and persuade his involvement.
“If there is any chance of alleviating his concerns and doubts that are overshadowing his decision making, I would be delighted,” he added.
“I think this will be a great celebration of a great game. I have no dog in this fight because I am neither a fan of Chelsea nor Arsenal, but it will be a great celebration and I think his participation can only make it shine brighter.”