The Europa League group stages are set, and the consensus among Arsenal fans is that the draw was good to the Gunners. This being Arsenal, however, nothing can ever be that easy.
You may not know much about Qarabag and the Eurasian country of Azerbaijan, but Arsenal’s group match scheduled there for October 4th could prove problematic. First is the fact that the journey is close to 5000 miles round trip. Then there’s the small matter that Arsenal have a 12 p.m. kick-off scheduled at Fulham’s Craven Cottage less than 72 hours later. As if that’s not enough, this match also includes international tensions. Yes, you read that right.
The situation involves Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the fact that his home country of Armenia is currently at odds with its neighbor Azerbaijan. Qarabağ just so happen to be the champions of the Azerbaijan Premier League.
I must admit that I was not aware of the conflict between the two countries. In brief, the situation revolves around the area known as Nagorno-Karabakh. The mountainous region has been the site of ethnic and religious tension since the 1980’s.
Back in 2015 Mkhitaryan stayed behind when Borussia Dortmund faced FK Gabala in Azerbaijan. The reason given revolved around security worries.
Even if he is willing to travel with his teammates, Mkhitaryan would need to receive permission from Azerbaijan to obtain a visa. Armenians are currently not allowed to enter the country.
Arsenal released a statement about the matter: “Safety and security of all our players and staff is always a top priority. We will be looking into this situation, talk to the player and make a decision after that.”
Arsenal supporters are all hoping that the club can replace last season’s disappointment with a Europa League Championship. To do so, Arsenal and Mkhitaryan will have to deal with this situation again next May, as the Europa League final will be held at the Olympic Stadium in...Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.