Arsenal have encouraged their supporters to follow advice from the UK foreign office after the club was drawn to play CSKA Moscow in the Europa League quarter-finals – a pairing described as a "hot potato" by an Arsenal fans' group.
The tie comes at a time of tension between the British government and the Kremlin over the poisoning of the Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in the English cathedral city of Salisbury this month.
Arsenal will host the first leg on April 5th before travelling to Moscow on April 12th. There have been plenty of calls for England to boycott the World Cup in Russia this summer, and similar opinions about Arsenal's visit can be expected. Arsenal beat AC Milan 5-1 on aggregate to make the last eight, with Friday's draw pitting them against CSKA – who had come from behind to knock Lyon out.
A statement on Arsenal’s website said: “Supporters planning to go to CSKA Moscow should be aware of the following travel advice from the Foreign Office: ‘Due to heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia, you should be aware of the possibility of anti-British sentiment or harassment at this time; you’re advised to remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations and avoid commenting publicly on political developments.
" 'While the British Embassy in Moscow is not aware of any increased difficulties for British people travelling in Russia at this time, you should follow the security and political situation closely and keep up to date with this travel advice.' "
A leading fans' group has promised to liaise closely with the club before what the Arsenal Independent Supporters Association chair, Lois Langton, labelled a "hot potato" of a draw. "It probably isn't going to be the destination of choice for many supporters. We will work with the club to help ensure the safety of those fans who travel to Moscow," she said.
“It’s a hot potato of a draw in view of the political stand-off between the UK and Russia at present, although no doubt it will inject some hype and tension into this season’s Europa League. Foreign-office travel advice will need to be listened to.”
CSKA moved to calm any early concerns following the draw. "We are happy to play Arsenal and don't see any danger for English fans that would like to come to Moscow. We have already played against Manchester United this season in Moscow, and everything went well," a club spokesman told Sky Sports News.
The last meeting between Arsenal and CSKA Moscow was attended by the man suspected of the murder of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. An inquiry into the 43-year-old's poisoning with the radioactive substance polonium-210 revealed Andrei Lugovoi met Litvinenko at the Millennium Hotel in London along with his fellow suspect Dmitri Kovtun on November 1st that year, and hours later went to the Champions League match, which finished 0-0, at the Emirates Stadium. – PA