Arsenal coasted to a 2-0 win thanks to a pair from Aaron Ramsey to seal a 5-0 aggregate win over Turkish side Fenerbahce. The win ensures Arsenal’s slot in the UEFA Champions League group stages and saves UEFA blushes: Fenerbahce have been ejected from European play on match-fixing charges, but played on pending an appeal from the CAS.
Arsenal were joined by Steaua Bucharest, Schalke, Basel and Austria Wien. The final five entrants into the group stage will be decided on Wednesday, with the group stage draw following Thursday morning.
Arsenal made it look easy on Tuesday in front of a sparsely-attended Emirates. Holding a three-goal cushion –- and never having lost a game to Fenerbahce -– this was presumed to be an easy win for the Gunners, and they did not disappoint.
Ramsey broke the tension after 25 minutes when Lukas Podolski played a diagonal ball through a spotty Turkish back line, allowing Theo Walcott to skip left and pass in the box. Ramsey made no mistake, firing past Volkan Demirel to the far post. Ramsey’s second was even sweeter, a one-touch shot to the far post off a feed back by sub Kieran Gibbs.
But Arsenal may rue the cost of this match: Podolski had to be removed on a stretcher after seeming to tweak his hamstring, while Ramsey trotted off before the final whistle to take treatment. Jack Wilshere also received a pounding, as frustration overtook the luckless Turks.
Arsenal striker Lukas Podolski sustained a hamstring injury in Tuesday’s match against Fenerbahce (Photo: Tony O’Brien Livepic/AP Images).
Elsewhere, Schalke overcame the red card shown to Jermaine Jones by scoring twice with 10-men and advanced to the group stage with a hard-earned 4-3 aggregate victory over a PAOK Salonika team that only reached the playoff when Ukraine’s Metalist Kharkiv was tossed from the tournament.
Played in front of a an empty stadium due to PAOK’s ban for crowd trouble, the second-chance Greeks more than proved their right to a spot, pushing the favored Germans to the finish. Knowing a 0-0 draw would have qualified them, PAOK played a solid, but not ultra-defensive first half, but Schalke’s Adam Szalai spoiled the party when he finished an Atsuto Uchida pass with a first-time goal two minutes before the interval.
That sparked a wild finish. Knowing they had to attack, PAOK opened the throttle after the restart and tied the game on a Stefanos Athanaisiadis strike. When Jones collected his second yellow card of the night, lunging into a tackle after he had lost possession, PAOK seemed to be set for a major upset as the American walked off the field.
Julian Draxler made sure the red card wasn’t fatal. First, he accepted a wonderful through pass from Max Meyer and put Schalke ahead in the 67th minute, then he clinched the place in the Group Stage when he ran down a long ball, left a defender for dead and crossed for Szalai to get his second of the night in the 90th minute.
Kostas Katsouranis had headed a fine goal with 12 minutes left to bring PAOK back level on the night, but they still trailed on away goals and had to continue to commit men forward. That left the back door open, and Draxler punished them.
Meyer had a strange night and earned a hero’s role. He played just seven minutes as a sub but threaded a perfect ball through for Draxler, even as Roman Neustadter was getting ready to replace him as Huub Stevens needed to solidify that spot after Jones was sent off. At the end, Schalke celebrated at midfield while the Greeks slumped in disbelief.
Austria Wien lost but advanced 4-3 when sub Roman Kienast scored just a minute after entering the game. Pouncing on a loose ball, Philip Hosiner headed it across to the sub, who couldn’t help but score from close range.
Steaua were winners on the away goals rule after a 3-3 aggregate draw in Warsaw against Legia. A 2-2 deadlock on the night in Warsaw, Federico Piovaccari had the tie wrapped up after only nine minutes when he slipped the ball under the onrushing Dusan Kuciak.
And Basel had an easy night, downing Ludogorets 2-0 at home to advance 6-2 on aggregate. Phillip Degen and Fabian Frei both scored to help the Swiss coast at St. Jakob’s.