While Arsenal boss Unai Emery struggled to provide a reason for Henrikh Mkhitaryan's absence ahead of Thursday's Europa League tie, Qarabag's manager presented his own theory.
Reports suggested that Mkhitaryan would be left behind in England due to security fears stemming from a long-standing dispute between Armenia, his home country, and Azerbaijan. His absence was confirmed on Wednesday.
Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov claims that the Premier League side was "afraid" to include the Armenian in their traveling squad due to the backlash he would receive from the thousands of Azerbaijani fans in attendance.
"I didn't want politics to interrupt the sport but we could not do anything on this issue," he said, according to the Evening Standard's James Olley. "Arsenal 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 and until now a lot of Armenian sportsman came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn't send.
"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."
A dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region has resulted in Azerbaijan banning Armenians from entering the country. However, exceptions have been made in the past, with UEFA saying that Mkhitaryan would be granted a visa.
Emery still opted to leave the 29-year-old behind, but he refrained from elaborating on a reason.
"He cannot travel here," Emery said. "We are here, the players with the best mentality and preparation and possibility to play tomorrow."
When asked if he's aware of the conflict between the two countries, he said: "My work is football. I respect each person, I respect each people, I respect each culture, I respect each country. But I don’t know each situation in every country. For me, he cannot play tomorrow. There is respect for Micki and respect for you. Today we are here with the opportunity to play well."
With the Europa League final set to take place in Baku, Azerbaijan in May, Emery wasn't willing to discuss what Arsenal's policy will be if they're playing for silverware.
"It’s a long time for us to arrive at the final," he said.
Emery also revealed that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will not play due to illness, while Aaron Ramsey asked to stay in London in anticipation of his wife giving birth.
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