Arsenal have vowed to win the Europa League final in honour of absent team-mate Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Forward Mkhitaryan chose not to travel to Baku for Wednesday’s clash with Chelsea, fearing for his safety due to his native Armenia’s long-standing conflicts with Azerbaijan.
Although the Azerbaijan FA insisted it would be safe for Mkhitaryan in Baku, the 30-year-old Gunners star has taken no chances.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Granit Xhaka have confirmed Arsenal will take extra motivation into Thursday’s final to respect their missing team-mate.
“We’ve had five or six years together, I know him very well, we are good friends,” said Sokratis, explaining a social media post in support of Mkhitaryan.
“So I just wrote what I feel. But we have also to play for him and for the players who are injured, and tomorrow if we win this game, it’s also for them.”
Arsenal will qualify for next term’s Champions League with victory, with Xhaka adamant the Gunners belong at Europe’s top table.
The Switzerland midfielder said Arsenal have been hit by Mkhitaryan’s absence but pledged the club will do all it can to scoop the silverware in his honour.
“Of course we are disappointed he’s not here but I think we spoke a lot about Mkhitaryan, and a lot of political things, and it’s time to speak about football,” said Xhaka.
“He’s very important for us, and we want to give him a trophy tomorrow.
“We’ve been twice in a row in the Europa League, and a club like Arsenal has to be in the Champions League.
“It’s an amazing and important game for us, because we want to give the club and the fans the Champions League back.”
Arsenal’s miserable away form ultimately cost the Gunners a top-four Premier League finish and automatic Champions League qualification.
Unai Emery brought Arsenal’s players out to Baku on Saturday, while Chelsea did not travel until Monday.
Despite Arsenal’s away-day blues in the league, the Gunners have pulled off several fine wins on their travels in Europe this term.
Xhaka is confident Emery’s men will perform when the title is on the line on Wednesday.
“It was our problem in the season, if you take more points away from home maybe you finish in the top four,” said Xhaka.
“But if you play compact and work for each other you can win away.
“But tomorrow it’s not about home or away, it’s a final.
“Baku or anywhere else, it’s not an excuse. So that’s why we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”