Arsenal Criticise Choice Of Azerbaijan For Europa League Final

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Arsenal have criticised the choice of  Baku, capital of Azerbaijan as host of the Europa League final, where they will play against London rivals, Chelsea, on May 29.

The club lamented the “unacceptable” and “extreme” travel problems for fans in a statement on Thursday.

Arsenal and Chelsea have been given just 6,000 tickets each by UEFA for the game, in a stadium with a capacity of 68,700.

The club said the tickets may not even be completely sold out because of the difficulty of getting to Azerbaijan.

“Time will tell if it is even possible for 6,000 Arsenal fans to attend the match, given how extreme the travel challenges are,” Arsenal said.

“We have 45,000 season ticket holders and for so many fans to miss out due to UEFA selecting a final venue with such limited transport provision is quite simply not right.”

There are few flights to Baku from Western Europe, though more are being operated for the final, and prices are far above usual fare.

“We have received many complaints from our fans about this and we fully share their concerns.

“On behalf of our fans, we would like to understand the criteria by which venues are selected for finals, and also how supporter requirements are taken into account as part of this. Moving forward we would urge UEFA to ensure that supporter logistics and requirements are a key part of any future decisions for final venues as what has happened this season is unacceptable, and cannot be repeated,” the club added.

Arsenal’s then-chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, was on the UEFA executive committee when Baku was chosen as Europa League host in September 2017.

Azad Rahimov, Azerbaijan Sports Minister, defended Baku on Wednesday as a deserving host.

He stated: “This is Europe and any city has a chance to host such kind of an event,” he said. “That’s really good that the people can travel, to know each other better. I believe that next time when we will host such an event, never such a question will appear, because I believe that everybody getting acquainted with our beautiful city, with our hospitality, will be happy to be back again.”

It is Arsenal’s first European final in 13 years and, the club is seeking to win its first continental trophy since the 1994 Cup Winners’ Cup.

Baku also bid to host this season’s Champions League final, but missed out to Madrid.

Arsenal had previously raised concerns about its Armenian midfielder, Henrihk Mkhitaryan’s ability to enter Azerbaijan for the game, given long-running political tension between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

Rahimov also said on Wednesday, that Mkhitaryan could play in Azerbaijan.

“We at all times put the sport as something very separate from these political issues and of course the same issue is again with Mkhitaryan,” Rahimov said. “He receives all the guarantees from the government about the security, visa support, everything,” he noted.

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