Lionel Messi has been omitted from the shortlist for FIFA’s men’s player of the year award, which features Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric and Mohamed Salah.
Barcelona and Argentina forward Messi had featured in the top three for 11 straight years. He was runner-up in the prize in 2007 and 2008 before winning the title for the first of five years in 2009.
Portugal and Juventus forward Ronaldo, like Messi, is a five-time winner, and has reached the top three alongside Croatia and Real Madrid midfielder Modric and Salah, the Egypt and Liverpool forward.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s availability for Arsenal‘s Europa League trip to Qarabag is in doubt due to tensions between his homeland of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Gunners have been drawn with Sporting Lisbon, Ukrainian side Vorskla and Azeri champions Qarabag in Group E.
Some potentially tricky games are compounded by questions over Mkhitaryan’s availability for the trip to Azerbaijan, which is also hosting the Europa League final in the capital of Baku.
Tensions continue between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, with a ceasefire 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”.
In relation to the situation surrounding Mkhitaryan, UEFA said in a statement: “It is a standard procedure for UEFA to send letters of support to associations, clubs or embassies in order to obtain visas for players in order to be able to travel to another country and play in UEFA competition matches.”
The Gunners, last season’s semi-finalists, were drawn in Group E alongside the Portuguese club, Azerbaijan champions Qarabag and Ukrainian outfit Vorskla.
Portuguese club Sporting have started their domestic campaign unbeaten despite a troublesome summer that saw seven players cancel their contracts following an attack by fans at the training ground last season.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery has won the competition three times as manager of Sevilla.
Chelsea face some long trips on their return to Europe’s second-tier competition for the first time since they lifted the trophy in 2013.
Maurizio Sarri’s Blues have been drawn with Greek side PAOK, Belarusian champions BATE Borisov and Hungarian title winners Vidi in Group L.
Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers both face difficult draws as they aim to negotiate the group stages.
Celtic are in Group B with Austrian champions Red Bull Salzburg, Bundesliga side RB Leipzig and Norwegian title holders Rosenborg, who the Hoops beat in a Champions League qualifier earlier this summer.
Rangers are back in a European group stage for the first time since the 2010/11 Champions League following their play-off win against Ufa.
They will return to Russia to face Spartak Moscow in Group G, which also contains La Liga side Villarreal and Austrian’s Rapid Vienna.
The final of this season’s Europa League takes place in Baku on May 29.