The Gunners are set to be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan for a part of their European journey
Football and politics mixing is never a pretty sight.
Arsenal were one of four British clubs who were handed their Europa League fates in today’s draw.
The Gunners, at first glance, were handed a favourable looking group, drawn alongside Qarabag and FC Vorksla, with only Sporting CP likely to pose a test.
The task facing Arsenal in their away clash with Qarabag and also the final, should they make it that far, has however emerged as a lot tougher than first thought.
Just moments after the draw pitted Arsenal against the Azerbaijani side, a bizarre ruling came to light.
It leaves UEFA with a lot to answer for.
Arsenal are set to be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan for their trip to Qarabag because of visa-related problems.
Strained diplomatic relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, down to an ongoing conflict, has caused tensions between the two nations to rise.
The dispute has led to Azerbaijan banning Armenians from entering the country.
Mkhitaryan would only be allowed access to the country should UEFA obtain a special visa to grant the Armenian ability to travel.
UEFA released a statement following the draw to try and clarify the situation:
“It is a standard procedure for Uefa to send letters of support to associations, clubs or embassies in order to obtain visa for players in order to be able to travel to another country and play in Uefa competition matches.”
This is not the first occasion where Mkhitaryan has found himself in such a position.
During his time with Borussia Dortmund, the playmaker was omitted from Thomas Tuchel’s squad to play Azerbaijani club Gabala in 2015.
Mkhitaryan was told he would receive a visa upon landing in the country, however Dortmund decided to leave him at home after security concerns.
The situation gets worse for Arsenal with the realisation that the 29-year-old would, if Arsenal made it all the way, also miss the final.
With the competition’s show-piece event set to be staged at the Olympic Stadium in Baku, Mkhitaryan would once again be ruled out.
The situation regarding the Armenian’s availability for the final on May 29 should become clearer after the forthcoming clash against Qarabag.
Although an isolated political problem and something that is out of UEFA’s control, they have still played their part in this.
When deciding upon a suitable venue for the final, it seems bizarre to award it to Azerbaijan with the knowledge that this might occur.
In terms of the draw, you would have thought that political tensions and how they might impact ties would have been considered.
Procedures should have been put in place to prevent sides with Armenian players travelling to Azerbaijan.
European football’s governing body simply discounted the possibility of this scenario occurring, especially with such a high-profile club like Arsenal.
Arsenal felt aggrieved by UEFA’s shambolic cup-tied ruling that meant Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was ineligible for selection in the tournament last season.
Although this latest blunder isn’t their sole responsibility, UEFA would have been left red-faced by the way the draw panned out.
Why aren’t we surprised.
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