LONDON: Arsenal must be Michel Platini’s favourite club – and not because they have a fellow Frenchman as a manager.
The Gunners saved UEFA and its president from a possible Champions League embarrassment after decisivelt dismissing Turkey’s Fenerbahce from the competition.
Fenerbahce were in the play-off stage only courtesy of an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against expulsion by UEFA over a matchfixing scandal.
The verdict is due within the next 24 hours and could have added to the complexity of the issue. Instead Arsenal ensured that UEFA will have its way by winning 2-0 at home against the Turks with two strikes from Aaron Ramsey to condemn Fenerbahce to a 5-0 aggregate defeat.
Ramsey’s strong start to the season continued with a goal in each half of the second leg, his 26th-minute opener putting the tie beyond doubt before his brilliant finish from Theo Walcott’s cross completed the rout.
The 22-year-old Wales midfielder has scored three goals in four appearances this season and impressed again as he sent Fenerbahce, overwhelmed 3-0 in the first leg in Istanbul last Wednesday, crashing out of Europe.
It was the Gunners’ 12th victory in the 12 play-off matches they have faced in the competition and extended their Champions League presence under Arsene Wenger to 16 consecutive seasons.
Elsewhere Schalke also reached the group stage as they edged past PAOK Salonika 3-2 in Greece for a 4-3 aggregate win. Adam Szalai’s first-half opener set the Germans on their way and despite a 53rd-minute leveller from Stefanos Athanasiadis they regained control through Julian Draxler’s 67th-minute strike.
A 79th-minute effort from Kostas Katsouranis gave Salonika hope but Szalai’s second in the final minute sealed victory for the visitors.
Steaua Bucharest threw away an early two-goal lead in Poland but clung on for a 2-2 draw on the night which gave them victory over Legia Warsaw on the away goals rule.
Nicolae Stanciu and Federico Piovaccari gave the Romanians a 2-0 lead inside the first 10 minutes before Miroslav Radovic pulled one back. Jakub Rzezniczak’s injury-time effort was too late for the hosts.
Basel completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Bulgarian side Ludogorets with a 2-0 second-leg win in Switzerland. Fabian Frei opened the scoring in the 11th minute and Philipp Degen added the second 11 minutes from time.
FK Austria survived a fightback from Dinamo Zagreb to squeeze through to the group stages at the Franz Horr Stadium.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg in Croatia, the hosts extended their lead in the fourth minute through a Josip Simunovic own goal but Marcelo Brozovic and Sammir dragged Zagreb back into it before half-time and a 71st-minute strike from substitute Fatos Beciraj drew them level on aggregate.
Vienna substitute Roman Kienast made a dramatic intervention to seal his side’s place in the next stage, scoring their second just one minute after coming on as an 81st-minute substitute, as a 3-2 defeat on the night gave the hosts a 4-3 aggregate win.