Unai Emery insists Arsenal will show their Azerbaijani hosts ‘respect’ when they meet for the first time on Thursday night, although that doesn’t seem to be a two-way street.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan has been left at home due to the political situation between Azerbaijan and Armenia. This seems like a sensible move to defuse tensions ahead of the game, but Qarabag’s manager showed little humility when he declared Mkhi had been left at home because Arsenal were ’afraid’ to bring him.
“I didn’t want politics to interrupt the sport but we could not do anything on this issue,” said Gurban Gurbanov said as he did exactly what he claimed he didn’t want to do. “But 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, but until now a lot of Armenian sportsmen came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send [him].
“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.”
In contrast, Unai Emery showed nothing but the respect we expect from an Arsenal manager ahead of any tie.
“With Qarabag, we have a lot of respect for them,” Emery told reporters at his pre-match press conference. “They started with a good performance against Sporting Lisbon in Lisbon in the first match. They lost 2-0 but they gave a very good performance against them, with good players and also with good spirit and good tactical intentions in the game.
“I remember also, last year here, Atletico Madrid there were two matches against them. They could not win. It’s for me, two very good examples for us to have the respect for them.
“Also we have the confidence in our players to do the best performance tomorrow and also with our work, we can have a great match with a good performance for thinking only to win and to do one good match.”
Arsenal have never played Qarabag before, nor any side from Azerbaijan, but it will hopefully give them a taste of the Europa League final which is due to be played at the same stadium in May.
Stats and facts
Champions of Azerbaijan for the fifth successive year in 2017/18, Qarabağ are also competing in a UEFA group stage for the fifth season running, three appearances in the UEFA Europa League preceding last season’s landmark UEFA Champions League adventure. BATE Borisov blocked their route back into that competition this season, in the third qualifying round, but a UEFA Europa League play-off victory against FC Sheriff kept that sequence of group stage appearances going.
- Qarabağ have never extended a European campaign into the spring. Their home record in the UEFA Europa League group stage is W2 D4 L3, the only victories coming against Anderlecht in 2015/16 (1-0) and PAOK in 2016/17 (2-0).
- Qarabağ have conceded only once in four European home games this season (W2 D1 L1) – having shipped four goals against Chelsea in their final European fixture last term. They previously held Atlético Madrid to a 0-0 stalemate in Baku as well as a 1-1 draw in the Spanish capital – results that contributed to Atlético’s transfer from the UEFA Champions League to the UEFA Europa League, which they went on to win.
- The Gunners finished sixth in the 2017/18 Premier League – their lowest final placing under Arsène Wenger in his swansong season as manager after 22 years. It earned them a second successive qualification for the UEFA Europa League group stage.
- UEFA Champions League ever-presents for 19 successive seasons until last term, Arsenal reached the UEFA Europa League semi-finals at the first attempt, going out to Atlético. Their away record during that run was W4 D1 L2.
- The 1999/2000 UEFA Cup runners-up were 4-2 winners at BATE Borisov on matchday two of last season’s UEFA Europa League. Furthermore, the Gunners have never lost away from home on matchday two in six UEFA Champions League encounters (W4 D2).
Links and trivia
- Qarabağ’s Innocent Emeghara has played for Switzerland alongside Arsenal duo Stephan Lichtsteiner and Granit Xhaka.
- Arsenal’s Mesut Özil scored and set up another goal in Baku to help Germany beat Azerbaijan 3-1 in a UEFA EURO 2012 qualifier on 7 June 2011.
Qarabağ coach Gurban Gurbanov is Azerbaijan’s highest-scoring international with 12 goals in 64 matches. While he regularly changed club as a player, he celebrated ten years as head coach of Qarabağ in August 2018, during which time he has led the club to five successive national league titles, four Azerbaijani Cups and regular European group stage involvement, including a maiden UEFA Champions League adventure in 2017/18. He has doubled up as the coach of Azerbaijan since November 2017.
After two years with Paris Saint-Germain that yielded seven domestic trophies, Unai Emery was appointed as Arsenal manager in May 2018, replacing the long-serving Wenger. The Spaniard oversaw Sevilla’s historic hat-trick of successes in the UEFA Europa League from 2013/14 to 2015/16, having assumed control following a four-year tenure at Valencia and a brief stint at Spartak Moskva. He has been in charge of more UEFA Europa League games than any other coach.