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Dublin: 8°C Sunday 29 November 2020

'His physical safety is assured by every word I say'

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has, after discussions with Arsenal, taken the decision not to travel to the Europa League final.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan (file pic).
Henrikh Mkhitaryan (file pic).

HENRIKH MKHITARYAN HAS been accused of making a “political statement” in missing the Europa League final, with Azerbaijan’s UK ambassador claiming the Arsenal forward had the necessary assurances to travel to Baku.

After holding discussions with his club, it has been revealed that the Armenia international will not be gracing a showpiece event on 29 May.

Concerns over his safety, amid political tension between his homeland and Azerbaijan, have led to a tough call being made.

Uefa claims to have done all it could to pave the way for Mkhitaryan to face Chelsea, with European football’s governing body disappointed to see a prominent player miss out on a final outing.

The host nation of a continental clash between two Premier League rivals also sought to make the 30-year-old aware that there would be no issues.

Ambassador Tahir Taghizade believes the decision by Arsenal and Mkhitaryan to ignore the advice they were given suggests that the player has made a political, rather than a professional call.

He told talkSPORT: “Our reaction? The right word would be disappointment.

“Obviously that’s his decision — his, his family’s and the club’s — but we are disappointed in it.

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.”

Taghizade added: “Do I think he is making a political statement? I am afraid so.

“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.

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“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.

“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.”

Taghizade says he would still be willing to speak with Mkhitaryan if there is a chance of his decision being overturned, adding: “Absolutely I would talk to them, at any moment.

If there is any contact I would be delighted to do that. If there is any chance of alleviating his concerns and doubts that are overshadowing his decision-making, I would be delighted.

“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.”

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