Arsenal will face Vorskla Poltava in Kiev on Thursday night in a Europa League clash that has been overshadowed by the issues leading up to the game.
Martial law was declared in some regions of Ukraine earlier in the week, leading to the venue for
the Group E meeting being switched from the Stadion Vorskla in Poltava to the Olympic Stadium in
the capital, some 185 miles away.
Vorskla, meanwhile, made some suggestion the game would still not take place – although an
Instagram post from their account on Wednesday evening showed the squad boarding a coach bound for Kiev.
UEFA has apologized to both sets of supporters for the inconvenience of the relocation – which
was announced on Tuesday evening – and says it will send senior security experts to assess the situation in Ukraine.
Around 500 Arsenal supporters were due in Ukraine and some had already travelled to Poltava
ahead of the match – meaning they were left with a long journey across the country if they wished to take in the fixture.
It is understood a small group of Arsenal support staff were also already in Poltava before UEFA’s
decision, while the plane carrying the team to Kiev had technical difficulties which meant their pre-match press conference was delayed by 90 minutes.
The political tensions, coupled with the inconvenience for both clubs, will linger longer than
Thursday’s match, especially as Arsenal have already qualified for the knockout stages, with a win
in Kiev enough to secure top spot.
After his late arrival, Arsenal head coach Unai Emery took his seat to address the media in the
bowels of the stadium as it was being hastily prepared to host the game.
The Spaniard said that, once on the pitch, his side will be largely unaffected and that the club
“respected” UEFA’s late call to switch the game to Kiev.
“First, we need to respect UEFA’s decision because I think it’s not easy for Vorskla,” he said.
“For us yesterday we were preparing the first trip to Poltava and waiting in the evening for the last decision.
“It’s not changing a lot to play here. In 90 minutes it is not a very big change. It is clear they are
playing in Ukraine, not in their town, but here in Kiev they can also move their supporters.
“In 90 minutes we want to do our work here.
“The decision is not easy but with big responsibility. UEFA yesterday found the best decision to play and also with protecting everybody, us and them.
“We were waiting for this decision but with respect. The travel changed but Kiev also has lot of
possibility for us and most important for supporters – we just want to play and win and show every supporter from London to do well.”