Thursday 28 August 2014
Arsenal qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League for the 17th season in succession courtesy of a narrow victory over Besiktas at Emirates Stadium.
Following a goalless draw in Istanbul last week, the Gunners needed to win their second-leg encounter with the Turkish Super Lig side in order to progress in the competition and they broke the deadlock in stoppage time at the end of a nervous first half when summer signing Alexis Sanchez scored his first goal for the club.
In the absence of the suspended Aaron Ramsey and the injured Mikel Arteta and Olivier Giroud, the hosts found it difficult to carve out goalscoring opportunities in the first half, although Jack Wilshere passed up a good chance to give his side the lead when he broke through on nine minutes before dragging his angled shot wide of the far post.
To the relief of the home fans, however, the all-important goal came on the stroke of half-time when the lively Wilshere drove into the area, exchanged passes with Mesut Ozil and Sanchez stepped in to fire low past Tolga Zengin from 12 yards.
"Giroud had surgery today from a broken tibia and he will be out for three to four months"
After the interval Wenger's side created further chances to stretch their lead when Mathieu Debuchy rose at the far post to head Ozil's free-kick wide and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain side-footed straight at Tolga with the goal at his mercy following a low cross from Nacho Monreal.
An unanswered equaliser would have been sufficient to take Slaven Bilic's side through on away goals and Demba Ba, the former Chelsea striker, came close to scoring on 64 minutes when he rifled a shot into the side-netting.
Arsenal's struggle then intensified when Debuchy was dismissed for a second bookable offence with 14 minutes remaining and, had Ba connected with an inviting cross with two minutes remaining, the north Londoners might have been out. But they held on to qualify and now join fellow Barclays Premier League representatives Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in today's group stage draw, which takes place in Monaco at 4.45pm.
The only sad note for Arsenal was news that Olivier Giroud will be out for at least three months after undergoing an operation on a broken leg sustained towards the end of his side's Barclays Premier League draw with Everton on Saturday.
"Giroud had surgery today from a broken tibia and he will be out for three to four months on the competition side," said Wenger. "That means he will be capable to play again in the Premier League certainly at the end of December."
Arsenal's reward for their victory over Besiktas was a place in Group D, where they will face Borussia Dortmund for the third time in their last four Champions League campaigns. Turkish side Galatasaray and Anderlecht of Belgium complete the group.
Chelsea, who won the Champions League in 2012, are drawn with Schalke, Sporting Lisbon and Slovenian side Maribor, who defeated Celtic to reach the group stage. Five-time European Cup winners Liverpool take on Real Madrid - who won their 10th European Cup in May, Basel and Champions League debutants Ludogorets Razgrad of Bulgaria.
Last season's Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City face a tough test in Group E as they are drawn with Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich, CSKA Moscow, both of whom they played in the competition last season, and Roma.
Atletico Madrid; Juventus; Olympiacos; Malmo
Real Madrid; Basel; LIVERPOOL; Ludogorets Razgrad
Benfica; Zenit St Petersburg; Bayer Leverkusen; Monaco
ARSENAL; Borussia Dotmund; Galatasaray; Anderlecht
Bayern Munich; MANCHESTER CITY; CSKA Moscow; Roma
Barcelona; Paris Saint-Germain; Ajax; APOEL
CHELSEA; Schalke; Sporting Club de Portugal; Maribor
Porto; Shakhtar Donetsk; Athletic Club; BATE Borisov