LONDON – Aaron Ramsey’s brace saw Arsenal ease into the Champions League group stage with a 2-0 second-leg win over Fenerbahce this evening.
Arsene Wenger’s Gunners were always in pole position to book their place in Thursday evening’s draw, having won the first leg in Istanbul 3-0.
But the visitors to Emirates Stadium made the brighter start, with Wojciech Szczesny denying Raul Meireles with a fine early save.
Ramsey settled the home fans’ nerves on 25 minutes, though, coolly rolling the ball into the net after good combination work from Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott in the build-up.
Olivier Giroud nearly made it 2-0 minutes later but Volkan Demirel saved his low shot well, and the Frenchman spurned a superb chance just before the break, firing over the bar when he should have scored.
Szczesny was being kept busy, meanwhile, pushing Emmanuel Emenike’s left-footed strike onto the upright to keep Arsenal’s lead intact.
After the break, Podolski made way with a hamstring injury and was replaced on the left flank by Kieran Gibbs, who set up Ramsey’s second goal of the night on 72 minutes, when the Welshman sidefooted home to put the icing on the cake of a flowing move from the hosts, who won 5-0 on aggregate to secure a 16th successive campaign in the Champions League group stage.
It was the Gunners’ 12th victory in the 12 play-off matches they have faced in the competition.
Now that Arsenal are guaranteed to be present in Thursday’s draw for the group stage, Wenger can step up efforts to make new signings before the transfer window closes on Monday.
Wenger stated on Friday that the biggest draw to any potential new arrival is Champions League football and the Frenchman’s hopes of capturing targets including Karim Benzema, Angel di Maria and Mesut Ozil will have improved.
The victory came at a cost, however, as Podolski’s injury has ruled him out of action for the next three weeks.
Jack Wilshere started at the expense of Tomas Rosicky after being rested on the bench for Saturday’s 3-1 victory over Fulham – and there were worrying moments late in the game as Wilshere went down clutching his ankle. He has undergone repeated surgeries on the joint and he was viciously hacked down by Bruno Alves, but he finished the game. (Sky)