Gurban Gurbanov

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Europa League preview: Chelsea, Arsenal heavy favorites

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It comes as little surprise that Arsenal would not send all of its stars to Azerbaijan for its meeting at Qarabag, though two of the reasons are relatively rare.

For Welsh star Aaron Ramsey, it’s a happy one: His wife is set to give birth.

[ MORE: Messi’s Wembley masterclass ]

But Armenian captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not travel because of hostility between Armenia and Azerbaijan that robbed him of a Champions League appearance when he was with Borussia Dortmund in 2015.

UEFA said Mkhitaryan could travel, but the player will stay behind. And Qarabag coach Gurban Gurbanov, also the manager of the Azerbaijan national team, is piling on. From The London Standard:

“If Henrikh Mkhitaryan would come to Azerbaijan it is not the first time and until now a lot of Armenian sportsman came to Azerbaijan but it is the choice of Arsenal that they didn’t send. … 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.”

Yikes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will also stay behind, but Arsenal is still heavily favored to move to 2-0 in Europa League play.

London rivals Chelsea are home for a visit from Hungarian side MOL Vidi (you may remember them as Videoton).

The favored Blues will be expected to easily win given that MOL Vidi lost 2-0 at home to BATE Borisov in the opener, but Maurizio Sarri finds himself asking questions about whether Chelsea can persevere when it comes to facing Southampton in the Premier League this weekend.

“I don’t think at West Ham we didn’t win because of the match in Greece. We changed a lot of players so I don’t think the reason was that. Of course tomorrow we need to change some players because we have spent a lot of mental and physical energy in two games against Liverpool, and after tomorrow we have to play another game in about 60 to 62 hours so we need to change.”

Full schedule

10:50 a.m. ET
Astana vs. Rennes

12:55 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. AEK Larnaca
AC Milan vs. Olympiacos
Real Betis vs. F91 Dudelange
Zenit Saint-Petersburg vs. Slavia Prague
Red Bull Salzburg vs. Celtic
Zurich vs. Ludogorets Razgrad
Rosenborg vs. RB Leipzig
Vorskla Poltava vs. Sporting CP
Anderlecht vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Fenerbahce vs. Spartak Trnava
Bordeaux vs. FC Copenhagen
Qarabag vs. Arsenal

3 p.m. ET
Spartak Moscow vs. Villarreal
Standard Liege vs. Akhisar Belediyespor
Malmo vs. Besiktas
Chelsea vs. MOL Vidi
Eintracht Frankfurt vs. Lazio
Jablonec vs. Dynamo Kiev
BATE Borisov vs. PAOK
Apollon Limassol vs. Marseille
Krasnodar vs. Sevilla
Sarpsborg vs. Genk
Rangers vs. Rapid Vienna