Arsenal missing star midfielder for Europa clash due to political tensions

Arsenal will be without Henrikh Mkhtaryan for Thursday’s Europa League Group E fixture with Qarabag in Azerbaijan.

The Gunners play at the Olympic Stadium in the capital city Baku, which will also host the tournament’s final next May, but Mkhitaryan has decided not to travel due to continuing tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Hostility remains over the disputed Nagorno Karabakh region, where a ceasefire was declared in 1994 after fighting erupted several years earlier.

Those issues meant Mkhitaryan did not travel with Borussia Dortmund to a Europa League game against Gabala in October 2015, with the German club’s chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke citing “safety concerns”.

Armenians are forbidden entry to Azerbaijan but exceptions can be made.

There was no official confirmation from Arsenal on the matter on Monday, but it is believed that Mkhitaryan has decided not to play based on similar safety grounds, with Arsenal fully supporting him.

After the August 31 draw, Arsenal said they would make a decision after taking to the player, signed from Manchester United in January.

Arsenal said: “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 won their opening game against Vorskla of Ukraine, with Mkhitaryan playing the full match, while Qarabag lost at Sporting.

Unai Emery’s side will be seeking an eighth successive win after Saturday’s Premier League victory over Watford.

The Gunners’ next Premier League match is at Fulham on Sunday.