Sanchez strike sees off Besiktas as Arsenal qualify for Champions League again
- Credit: EMPICS Sport
Arsenal 1 Besiktas 0 (aggregate 1-0)
Alexis Sanchez repaid a slice of his £30m transfer fee with his first goal for Arsenal as they booked their place in the Champions League.
The former Barcelona forward netted in first-half injury time to settle a vigorously-contested play-off second leg against Besiktas at Emirates Stadium.
And, although the Gunners had to see out the last 15 minutes with 10 men after Mathieu Debuchy was sent off, they did enough to extend manager Arsene Wenger’s proud record of reaching the group stages for a 17th consecutive season.
With the Turkish side content to sit deep and wait for an opportunity to counter-attack, most of the first-half chances – such as they were – fell to Arsenal.
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Referee Pedro Proenca played a good advantage in the ninth minute when Sanchez was brought down and Jack Wilshere scampered through, only to clip his left-foot finish wide of the far post.
Soon afterwards, Besiktas goalkeeper Tolga Zengin misdirected a hurried clearance straight to Santi Cazorla, but the Spaniard’s first-time lob failed to find the target.
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There was a rare moment of danger for the Gunners just after the half-hour when Mustafa Pektemek turned Laurent Koscielny on the edge of the box, but Debuchy’s tackle halted him in his tracks.
Sanchez – who had earlier steered a tame free-kick into Zengin’s hands – should have done better when Wilshere found him with a measured pass, but a poor first touch ruined his chances of getting in a clean shot.
However, the Chilean made no mistake in the dying seconds of the first half when Wilshere and Mesut Ozil combined to send him through and he stabbed a low finish beyond the keeper.
Arsenal built on that momentum at the start of the second half, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the hub of moves from which Cazorla and then Sanchez went close to extending the lead.
Debuchy almost opened his account for the Gunners on the hour mark, arriving at the far post to meet Cazorla’s free-kick with a header that flew just wide.
But the evening turned sour for the French full-back with 15 minutes left as he was adjudged to have pulled down Pektemek and shown his second yellow card.
Seconds earlier, the home side had squandered two good opportunities to seal victory, with Cazorla’s shot blocked by Pedro Franco and Oxlade-Chamberlain denied at close range by Zengin.
The Gunners sacrificed Ozil to bring on Calum Chambers – who, rather oddly was booked for entering the fray without the referee’s approval – and the 10 men settled down to see out the tie.
But, although Demba Ba glanced a header wide in the closing stages, the visitors were unable to manufacture the goal that would have put them into Thursday’s draw for the group stages at Arsenal’s expense.
Arsenal: Szczesny; Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Cazorla, Ozil (Chambers 76); Sanchez.