ISTANBUL: Arsenal, reportedly mired in the crisis at the weekend, took two giants steps towards the light by trouncing Fenerbahce in the Champions League while chasing Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria in the transfer market.
European federation UEFA would also have breathed a sigh of relief after second-half goals from Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud (penalty) in the play-off round first leg virtually eliminated the Turks who were playing only pending an appeal to CAS in the long-running matchfix scandal.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, under heavy pressure after the Gunners’ season-opening 3-1 home defeat by Aston Villa last Saturday, appeared vindicated with his expressions of confidence back then with his squad.
He said: “This team has shown a lot of mental strength. I told you yesterday that you had forgotten that this team has lost only one game since March under very, very special circumstance.
“Of course ,the environment we faced was difficult but the only way to do it is to go out there and play football like you want to play.
“I believe we played in a very, very heated atmosphere against a good team, but we had a proactive attitude from the first minute on, and that was certainly was very important tonight.
“We did not come in shaking, but came in resolute and determined and with a desire to take the game to them – and overall we were in control.”
The win, though, came at a cost as defender Laurent Koscielny was forced off with a cut head following a high boot from Pierre Webo, which left the France international needing hospital treatment.
Wenger, who missed out on the signing of Gonzalo Higuain earlier this summer, ruled out making an improved bid for Liverpool’s Luis Suarez following the vain bid of £40m+£1.
He said: “There is absolutely no chance of that.” However he is seeking strengthen his squad, especially in midfield, with Mikel Arteta and Abou Diaby both also injured.
Reports from Spain suggested that Arsenal had bid for Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Angel Di Maria.
Success would work two ways for Gunners: it would both strengthen their own lines while weakening north London rivals Tottenham since Madrid would then have the funds to force through the acquisition of Gareth Bale.
In other Champions League ties German club Schalke were held surprisingly 1-1 at home to PAOK Salonika, making the most of their ‘second life.’
Schalke took the lead just after the half-hour mark through Jefferson Farfan but Miroslav Stoch’s 73rd-minute strike brought PAOK level with a possibly crucial away goal.
PAOK are in the competition only because Metalist Kharkiv, who beat them in the qualifying rounds, have been expelled because of an old matchfixing offence.
Also held 1-1 at home were Steaua Bucharest by Legia Warsaw. Federico Piovaccari put Steaua ahead in the first half and Jakub Kosecki levelling after the interval.
A 2-0 away win put FK Austria firmly in the driving seat of their tie against Dinamo Zagreb. Marin Leovac and Marko Stankovic struck in the final 22 minutes. Inbetween, Dinamo were reduced to 10 men by the expulsion of Ante Rukavina.
Basel won 4-2 away to Ludogorets Razgrad even though the hosts led 2-1 at one point after goals from Marcelinho and and Ivan Stoyanov cancelled out Mohamed Salah’s opener.
Salah then equalised and further strikes from Giovanni Gio and a Fabian Schar penalty – awarded for a foul that earned Junior Caicara a red card – wrapped up Swiss success.