Arsenal have embarked on their mammoth Europa League trip to the Azerbaijani capital of Baku as they prepare to take on Qarabag.
Unai Emery, his staff and players boarded their plane at Luton Airport on Wednesday morning ready for the 2,465 mile, 5.5 hour journey to the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Baku, which is further east than all of Iraq and parts of Iran, is, with the exception of Kazakhstan and some Russian clubs, the most easterly outpost of UEFA’s jurisdiction.
This is the furthest Arsenal have ever travelled for a match in European competition.
Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac board Arsenal’s plane bound for Baku in Azerbaijan and their Europa League match against Qarabag on Thursday evening
Alexandre Lacazette and Matteo Guendouzi on the tarmac ahead of the 5.5-hour flight to Baku
Alex Iwobi was in good spirits as Arsenal prepared for the long-haul trip to Azerbaijan
It is a near 5,000-mile round trip for the Gunners from London to Baku to face Qarabag
The Gunners have been dealt a far from ideal hand in Group E, with a 3,028-mile round trip to Ukraine to play Vorskla Poltava still to come at the end of November.
Having beaten Vorskla 4-2 in their opening group match at the Emirates Stadium a fortnight ago, Arsenal will be hoping to cement their place at the top of the standings with another win.
Victory would be their eighth in succession in all competitions as the squad become more and more accustomed to Emery’s methods and style of play.
Bernd Leno is set to start between the stick following Petr Cech’s hamstring injury
Lucas Torreira with his luggage as he boards Arsenal’s plane at Luton Airport on Wednesday
Nacho Monreal climbs the steps to the aircraft as the Gunners jet off to the Azerbaijani capital
Defender Sokratis prepares to board the plane as the Gunners head off to far eastern Europe
Eddie Nketiah is in the Arsenal party for their second Europa League Group E fixture
Defender Hector Bellerin boards the plane at Luton Airport for the flight on Wednesday
Granit Xhaka has his passport and ticket in hand as he walks across the tarmac at Luton
ARSENAL’S TREACHEROUS TRIPS
London to Qarabag – 4,938 mile round trip
London to Poltava – 3,028 mile round trip
Total: 7,966 miles
They make the trip to Azerbaijan without a few squad members, with goalkeeper Petr Cech the latest on the treatment table. He suffered a hamstring injury and isn’t expected to return to training for another 3-4 weeks.
It means summer signing Bernd Leno will take the gloves, having also played in the win over Vorskla on matchday one.
Also absent are Ainsley Maitland-Niles (fibula), Dinos Mavropanos (groin) and Laurent Koscielny (Achilles tendon), though Emile Smith Rowe, who made his senior debut against Vorskla, is fit again following a hip problem.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan won’t make the trip because of security fears resulting from the continuing conflict between his nation Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Qarabag, reigning champions of the Azerbaijani top-flight, were paired with Chelsea in the Champions League group stages last season.
They were thrashed 6-0 at Stamford Bridge and then beaten 4-0 on their own ground by Antonio Conte’s team.
The Gunners will be hoping to make a return to the Baku Olimpiya Stadium because this season’s Europa League final will be staged there.
Qarabag started their Europa League group with a 2-0 defeat to Sporting Lisbon in Portugal and Arsenal will start the match as strong favourites despite the distance.