‘I feel sorry for him’ Bernd Leno hits out at ‘scandal’ that means Arsenal team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t play in Europa League final
- Bernd Leno hit out at absence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Europa League final
- Mkhitaryan has chosen not to travel to Baku because of safety concerns
- Leno wants to start against Chelsea despite Petr Cech being set to retire
Bernd Leno has branded the absence of Arsenal team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Wednesday’s Europa League final against Chelsea a ‘scandal’.
Mkhitaryan has chosen not to travel to Baku for safety reasons due to the long-standing political tensions between his native Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Despite receiving assurances about his security, the playmaker decided it was best not to travel following talks with his club and family.
Bernd Leno has called Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s absence from the Europa League final a ‘scandal’
Unai Emery will now be without a player who has featured heavily in Arsenal’s run to the final.
Goalkeeper Leno said: ‘It’s a scandal that he cannot play because of that, he works hard all season and cannot come to such a final for political reasons. I’m just sorry for him.’
UEFA’s decision to stage the final in Azerbaijan has been widely criticised and not just because a player has been forced to sit out the occasion.
Azerbaijan has proved problematic and too expensive for fans to get to, with both clubs only given allocations 6,000 partly due to the nearest airport only being able to accommodate 15,000 visitors a day.
Leno admits that he feels sorry for Mkhitaryan for being unable to play against Chelsea
And the sense of farce surrounding the game has been added to with Arsenal sending back 2,300 tickets and Chelsea around 4,000.
The allocations of both clubs inside the ground are likely to be significantly closer, however.
Arsenal fans can opt to have tickets delivered to their home addresses by post and some are believed to have bought them as souvenirs but not to travel due to the difficulty of the trip.
The Olympic Stadium holds 69,870 and any gaps in the stands would cause embarrassment for UEFA, whose decision to hold the final 2,500 miles away has been heavily criticised.
Chelsea supporters will not receive their tickets until they visit a designated pick-up point in Baku so have to make their way to Azerbaijan.
Leno wants to start despite Petr Cech (right) being in line to play the last game of his career
Leno admits there is no room for sentiment and he wants to start the final even though it will be the last game of Petr Cech’s career.
Cech, who is set to return to work for Chelsea after the final, replaced Leno as Arsenal’s Europa League goalkeeper and played all eight of their knockout ties but the German told Kicker: ‘I have great respect for Petr, and we get along very well.
‘He deserves all credit, and I treat him well, but it’s clear that I’m an athlete, I want to always play, especially in a final. To win the Europa League would be the first big title for me.’
After finishing fifth in the Premier League, the Gunners must win to clinch qualification for the Champions League – a competition they have missed out on for two years.
Granit Xhaka says Arsenal’s absence in Europe’s elite competition has ‘hurt’ the club.
‘We can’t change nothing in the Premier League, it’s over,’ Xhaka said. ‘What we can change is winning the Europa League and being back in the Champions League.
Midfielder Granit Xhaka stressed Arsenal’s Champions League absence has ‘hurt’ the club
‘If you see the club, we have to be in the Champions League. We didn’t play there for two years and we have to be there next season.
‘All the players, the fans, the club – we want to play against the best teams, and the best teams are in the Champions League. We want to be back there.
‘We speak about the season, what was good, what was bad, what can happen if we win the Europa League. All the players want to be back in the Champions League.’
On manager Unai Emery, who is looking to mark his first season in England with a trophy, Xhaka added: ‘If you come to a club and come after a coach who was at this club for 22 years, you are new here, you have to change little things, big things, it’s not so easy.
‘If you see his first season, it was great, in my opinion, and if you can win a trophy and go back to the Champions League then I think it’s the perfect season.’