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UEFA pledges to work with Arsenal and Chelsea over fans’ Baku travel issues

Organising travel to the Azerbaijan capital for the Europa League final has proven testing.

Arsenal fans celebrated their semi-final win in Valencia, but how many of them will be able to make it out to Baku? (Nick Potts/PA)
Arsenal fans celebrated their semi-final win in Valencia, but how many of them will be able to make it out to Baku? (Nick Potts/PA)

UEFA has defended the decision to award Baku the 2019 Europa League final, but vowed to work with Arsenal and Chelsea to help get their fans to the match.

The two Premier League rivals will meet in the Azerbaijan capital on May 29.

However, since the two London clubs qualified last week, concerns have been raised over hosting the showpiece event in Baku’s Olympic Stadium.

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Arsenal beat Valencia to reach the Europa League final in Baku (Nick Potts/PA)

Arsenal and Chelsea declared their disappointment at the ticket allocation for the final, with both clubs receiving in the region of 6,000 tickets each for a stadium which has a full capacity of 69,870.

Travel to Baku is also proving an issue for those fans who have qualified for a match ticket, with supporters heading out from London facing a round trip of 5,000 miles to attend the game.

Reports have suggested the immediate uptake on ticket sales at both clubs has been slow, while a one-day official travel trip has been offered at around £980 per person.

Both the Chelsea Supporters Trust and Arsenal Supporters Trust have been critical of the current conditions facing fans who are trying to head out to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal are also liaising with the Foreign Office after it emerged season-ticket holders with dual British and Armenian citizenship have been denied visas to visit Baku because of tensions with neighbouring Azerbaijan.

Gunners midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, captain of the Armenia national team, missed the Europa League group game against Qarabag in Baku earlier this season because of the issue.

The club are now working with UEFA in the hope safety measures can be put in place to allow the 30-year-old to travel for the final as part of Unai Emery’s squad.

However, the Association of Football Federations of Azerbaijan (AFFA) says Mkhitaryan’s safety and security is “guaranteed” in Baku.

Elkhan Mammadov, AFFA general secretary, told the Daily Telegraph: “Our government authorities provided guarantees to UEFA for Mkhi to come to Baku, so there is no issue of security and safety.

“Even before Arsenal qualified for the final, we received a request from UEFA to provide the guarantees, our state authorities provided all the necessary security arrangements for Mkhitaryan to travel to Baku. All the safety and security is already guaranteed.”

UEFA competitions director Giorgio Marchetti has written a letter to Arsenal regarding the issues raised by the Emirates Stadium club.

Marchetti apologised for any problems experienced by Arsenal and Chelsea fans in trying to make the trip, and stressed UEFA would look to help as part of a “joint effort” with the clubs.

He said: “It goes without saying that an all-English final played by two London teams was not a very predictable event at the time of the appointment. There is little doubt that this has added significant difficulties to the event logistics.

“We are really sorry for the problems that your (and Chelsea’s) fans are encountering trying to organise their journey to Baku.

“Our experts are keenly working on this matter with a view to help find cheaper solutions for travelling fans. We would welcome a joint effort with your club in this respect.”

Governing body UEFA also highlighted the logistical issues taken into consideration when awarding a final to a host city, stressing “mobility and accommodation are obviously key criteria”.

On the issue of ticket allocation, UEFA maintained the “high volatility in the number of fans following the two finalist teams” was always a factor – one which had been exacerbated by two well-supported English clubs making the final.

The letter added: “It is therefore not advisable to establish the tickets quota of the two finalist teams as a proportion of capacity rather than on statistically based realistic figures.”

UEFA, though, maintained “fans are a priority… and all of them around Europe should have the chance to enjoy unique moments of top football.”

Marchetti’s letter to Arsenal finished with the message: “I trust your understanding as men of sport and representatives of a club with a long and glorious tradition and solid sporting principles.

“I confirm our availability to work with you in order to find helpful solutions for your fans.”

When contacted by Press Association Sport on Friday, Arsenal and Chelsea did not want to comment on the letter from UEFA.

PA

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