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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Europa League: without Mkhitaryan in Baku, Arsenal still focuses on winning silverware

Europa League: without Mkhitaryan in Baku, Arsenal still focuses on winning silverware
Arsenal faces Chelsea in the final of the Europa League in Baku.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's teammates at Arsenal showed their determination to win the European League final on Wednesday against Chelsea in Baku for the absent Armenian star, as Gunners boss Unai Emery told his team that focuses on winning the cutlery instead of worrying about a possible return to the Champions League.

The preparation of this European derby final in London has been marred by Mkhitaryan's decision not to travel for the game due to fears about his safety due to an ongoing political dispute between his home country and neighboring Azerbaijan.

He had already missed Arsenal's trip to the Azeri capital for a group game against Qarabag last October.

"It's very important for us, both on the field and outside of it, and we want to give him a trophy tomorrow too," said Granit Xhaka, the Swiss midfielder.

Greek defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who previously played with Mkhitaryan in Borussia Dortmund before moving to England last year, posted a photo on Twitter earlier this week of the two in training under the title "Missing you bro."

"We were together for five or six years, so I know him very well, we are very good friends. "We have to play for him and for players who are injured and if we win this game it is also for them," he said at the press conference prior to Tuesday's game.

It remains to be seen whether Mkhitaryan's absence will hurt Arsenal on the field at the Baku Olympic Stadium, while the Gunners prepare for a big twin challenge.

They are looking for their first European trophy in 25 years and also have to win to reach the Champions League next season after missing a place among the top four in the Premier League. In contrast, Chelsea has already secured a return to the top table in Europe.

"We have two objectives: the first and the most important is to win a title," said Emery, who has already won this competition three times with Sevilla.

"Each title is very important for a team like Arsenal or Chelsea, in England and also in Europe."

Cech to start?

Emery's desire to win this competition for the fourth time in six years is understandable, but for Arsenal, there is also a need, financially and in terms of prestige, to return to the Champions League after an absence of two seasons.

"For a club like Arsenal, we have to be in the Champions League, it's an amazing and important game tomorrow because we want to give back to us, the fans and the club the Champions League," said Xhaka.

"I think if you see the season, maybe we deserve to be in the top four, but this is a great game, a final, we can win a trophy and we can go back to the Champions League."

Meanwhile, Emery refused to wonder if Petr Cech would start in his last game for the club before retiring.

The veteran goalkeeper has been strongly linked with a return to Chelsea, his old club, on the top floor, which could have a role in Emery's decision of whether or not to play with the 37-year-old here.

Cech has played most European games this season, while German Bernd Leno has been the first choice in the Premier League.

"I can talk a lot about Petr Cech, but above all, he's a great man, a great professional," Emery said.

"It's going to be his final game tomorrow because he will finish his career and I want to do something important with him, play or not play."