KEIR RADNEDGE in MONACO: Arsenal will complete English football’s quartet in the UEFA Champions League draw at the Grimaldi Centre in Monte Carlo but with a shadow over the task ahead.
The Gunners defeated Besiktas of Turkey 1-0 in north London to complete an aggregate success but learned, almost simultaneously, that they will compete in the mini league without Olivier Giroud.
France centre forward Giroud broke an ankle in an apparently innocuous incident at the end of Saturday’s Premier League draw at Everton and, manager Arsene Wenger revealed after the victory over the Turks, will be out “for three of four months.”
Wenger said that the Gunners had no immediate plans to buy a replacement but, in the cold light of the draw and with the countdown to the transfer window deadline already ticking, he may have second thoughts.
Chile forward Alexis Sanchez struck the winner – and his own first goal since his arrival from Barcelona – in the first minute of first-half stoppage time. Arsenal held on to their lead despite having new France rightback Mathieu Debuchy sent off in the closing stages.
Elsewhere Athletic Bilbao came from behind to secure their place in the group stage with a 3-1 victory over Napoli.
After a 1-1 draw in the first leg, Napoli nosed in front when Marek Hamsik opened the scoring two minutes after half-time, firing in a low left-footed shot which found the net off the inside of the post.
Bilbao responded with three quickfire goals after the hour mark. Aritz Arduiz struck twice – firing in Markel Susaeta’s 61st minute cross and then capitalising on a defensive mistake to beat keeper Rafael Cabral in the 69th minute.
Five minutes later, Ibai Gomez secured a third.
Malmo overturned a first-leg deficit to see off Salzburg and book their place in the group stages. The Austrians led 2-1 from last week, but were run off the park in a 3-0 defeat in Sweden.
Captain Markus Rosenberg scoring a seventh minute penalty before Magnus Eriksson lashed in a 19th minute volley to make it 2-0. Rosenberg then made sure of progress with his second six minutes from time.
Bayer Leverkusen cruised through with a 4-0 win over FC Copenhagen making it 7-2 on aggregate. Son Heung-Mon scored the first after only two minutes after a defensive mix-up, and a deflected free-kick from Hakan Calhanoglu made it 2-0 five minutes later.
Stefan Kiessling scored the third from a penalty after half an hour and he claimed second in the 65th minute.
Cosmin Monti was the hero as Ludogorets saw off Steaua Bucharest in a remarkable match which went to penalties.
After substitute Wanderson scored a wonderful volley in the 90th minute to send the game to extra-time, 1-1 on aggregate, centre-half Monti was forced into goal for the shoot-out following the 119th minute dismissal of Vladislav Stoyanov.
Monti, who spent seven years playing for Dinamo Bucharest, scored the first penalty for his side and then made saves to deny Paul Pirvulescu and Cornel Rapa as Ludogorets won the shoot-out 6-5.