Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan misses Europa League final due to safety fears

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Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be involved in the Europa League final after Arsenal confirmed he would not travel with the squad.

The Armenia international’s safety was a concern due to the dispute between his country and host nation Azerbaijan.

Therefore the Gunners have decided against him travelling to Baku for next Wednesday’s game with Chelsea.

A statement read: “We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

“We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party.

“We have written to UEFA expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

“We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career.

“Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.”

The former Manchester United man admitted he is “hurt” to miss the showpiece event.

He tweeted: “Having considered all the current options, we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad to the #UEL Final against #Chelsea.

“It‘s the kind of game that doesn’t come along very often for us players and I must admit, it hurts me a lot to miss it.”

UEFA later insisted that a “comprehensive security plan” was in place for Mkhitaryan.

It said in a statement released to Press Association Sport: “Working alongside Arsenal FC, UEFA sought and received assurances regarding the player’s safety in Azerbaijan from the highest authorities in the country.

“As a result of these guarantees, a comprehensive security plan was developed and given to the club.

“While the club acknowledges the efforts that UEFA and the Azeri government have gone to in this matter, we respect the personal decision not to travel with the player.”

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Arsenal to warm up for Europa League final with friendly against Austria's LASK Linz

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Unai Emery is looking to win his fourth Europa League title.

Arsenal will warm up for next Wednesday’s Europa League final clash against Chelsea by playing a closed-doors friendly against Austrian side LASK Linz this Thursday.

The fixture, due to be played at the club’s London Colney training ground, will be Arsenal’s first since the end of the Premier League season last Sunday, and helps the team avoid a 17-day gap between then and the May 29 final, said to have been a concern for manager Unai Emery.

LASK finished runners up in the Austrian Bundesliga, 12 points behind champions Red Bull Salzburg.

Chelsea also played a friendly ahead of the final, facing American side New England Revolution last Wednesday in the United States. But that game resulted in the injury of key midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek, who suffered a torn Achilles tendon that will keep him out for nine months.

However, Arsenal’s fixture against LASK will feature the team’s top players, despite the risk of similar injuries which could deplete the squad ahead of the final in Baku.

Having finished fifth in the league, Emery’s side enter the game against Chelsea with added incentive, as winning the trophy will come with the additional prize of qualifying for the Champions League – which Chelsea have already sealed by finishing third.

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Best loan signings 2018/19: The emergence of a super sub and why Real Madrid don't need Christian Eriksen

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With the kind of exorbitant transfer fees being tossed about in the transfer market, clubs are always going to be on the lookout for a shrewd loan deal.

The arrangement can often be beneficial to all parties. They can also be hit and miss at times but the risk is certainly worth the reward and there have been a few this season that have proved as much.

Here are five of the best over the 2018/19 campaign.

YOURI TIELEMANS

From featuring in France Football’s biggest flops over the first half of the 2018/19 season to being coveted by the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal, it’s been quite a remarkable turnaround for Youri Tielemans.

Having been hailed as a future star for Belgium during his teenage years, the midfielder’s talent has never been in doubt. However, after a superb final season with Anderlecht – during which he scored 18 goals in 53 appearances – his move to AS Monaco in the summer of 2017 hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Tielemans has failed to establish himself as a regular starter at the French club under both Leonardo Jardim and Thierry Henry while the former’s return prompted a loan move to Leicester City in January.

The pace and intensity of the Premier League didn’t faze the 22-year-old one bit. After starting well under Claude Puel, he flourished within new manager Brendan Rodgers’ system, registering three goals and four assists in 13 appearances.

His ability in tight spaces, passing range and runs from midfield have been a revelation. The Foxes will hope to strike a permanent deal for him this summer but will likely face stiff competitions from higher bidders.

PACO ALCACER

Unsatisfied with his limited playing time at Barcelona, Paco Alcacer made a smart move joining Borussia Dortmund on loan at the start of the season. The Spaniard immediately built a reputation as a super sub, scoring several goals in the closing stages of games.

The 25-year-old showed a remarkable ability to identify weak spots in the defence and take advantage of tiring legs with his sharp, goal-poaching instincts. Alcacer enjoyed great success in the Bundesliga this season, scoring 18 goals in 26 appearances – 15 of those appearances came off the bench.

His goal against Fortuna Dusseldorf in December was his 10th off the bench, setting a new Bundesliga record for goals from a substitute in a single season.

It was no surprise then when Dortmund exercised their option to buy him for €23 million on February 1, securing his services on a five-year contract.

RAUL JIMENEZ

After three solid seasons at Benfica without really standing out, the Portuguese outfit agreed to loan Raul Jimenez to Wolves for the 2018/19 Premier League season. The striker proved to be a revelation for the newly-promoted side, leading the line with aplomb.

Under Nuno Espirito Santo, Jimenez has been integral to Wolves’ system with his clever movement and link-up play. He’s provided their attack with a clear focal point and it doesn’t hurt that he’s also led the way with 13 goals and seven assists in the league. His four goals in the FA Cup helped them to a semi-finals appearance.

In the second half of the season, he forged a lethal partnership up front with compatriot Diogo Jota. That combination looks likely to carry the impressive mid-table side to greater things next season.

Such has been Jimenez’s impact that the Premier League outfit have taken up their option to buy the Mexican forward for a club-record €38 million. The striker was named Wolves’ Players’ Player of the season.

MARTIN ODEGAARD

In January 2015, Martin Odegaard was unveiled at the Santiago Bernabeu to much fanfare after Real Madrid beat the likes of Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Arsenal and the two Manchester clubs to his signature. Two years and just five goals for Castilla later, supporters were ready to give up on the teenage prodigy.

After a loan spell at Heerenveen last season seemed to do him some good, he returned to the Eredivisie for the 2018/19 campaign with Vitesse. Odegaard made a marked improvement from his three goals and five assists in 43 appearances last term. He finished with eight goals and 10 assists in 35 appearances this time.

A greater maturity has been witnessed in his game as he’s helped Vitesse qualify for the Europa League. His 3.4 key passes per game is second in the Dutch league only to Hakim Ziyech – Ajax’s star playmaker he’s touted to replace next season.

A fee of €20 million has been talked about but after the season he’s had, Madrid are only interested in discussing a loan deal with the Dutch champions. Los Blancos have been linked to Christian Eriksen but as comparisons between Odegaard and the Dane continue to grow, they may be inclined to wait for the 20-year-old to develop into the player they desire.

Martin Odegaard

DUVAN ZAPATA

The 2018/19 season was Duvan Zapata’s fourth successive one on loan. After initially coming to Italy with Napoli in 2015, he was deemed surplus to requirements two average seasons later. After a two-year loan spell at Udinese, he spent one season on loan at Sampdoria who were obligated to buy. He was again loaned out to Atalanta last summer.

Zapata had just one goal to his name by the start of December but that’s when the tide began to turn. After scoring against former side Napoli, he bagged a hat-trick against another former team in Udinese, going on to enjoy an eight-game scoring streak.

With 22 goals and seven assists in 36 Serie A games, the Colombian tied for second place in the scoring charts, above Cristiano Ronaldo. His incredible physicality and powerful play made him a handful for defenders.

Now that he’s added a substantial number of goals to the equation, he’s a sought-after player this summer with Chelsea (though they’re appealing a transfer ban) and West Ham in particular among the suitors.

Duvan Zapata

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