Arsenal avoided any unexpected scares to ensure their place in Thursday’s draw for the Champions League group stage, courtesy of a 4-0 aggregate win over Fenerbahce. The bulk of the work had been done last week with a 3-0 win in Istanbul and Arsene Wenger’s selection of a strong lineup in the return at the Emirates ensured there would be no dramatic reversal.
Aaron Ramsey, scorer in the first leg, got both goals in the second midway through each period to continue his fine form in recent matches. Wenger will have been delighted to rest players before the end ahead of Sunday’s north London derby against Tottenham. But before he could do that, Lukas Podolski was carried away on a stretcher with what appeared a serious hamstring injury. There were further worries for Arsenal too as Ramsey went off near the end with a groin problem after Jack Wilshere had gone down clutching his ankle.
Fenerbahce -- which will discover their fate over a ban for match fixing on Wednesday – throughout the two legs never played like a team that believed they would be taking their place in the group stage. Abject on home soil, Ersun Yanal’s side showed slightly more on occasion in the second leg.
Emmanuel Emenike was one of the chief reasons for the improvement in Fenerbahce’s performance as the Nigerian provided a focal point for his side’s attack. It was Emenike’s endeavor that led to the first real opening of the contest that ended with Bacary Sagna tackling the ball of Raul Meireles and requiring a good reaction stop from Wojciech Szczesny.
But Arsenal again showed the considerably greater quality and midway through the opening period they began stepping up the tempo of their passing. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott had already threatened before the home side went in front on 25 minutes, albeit in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Podolski’s through ball, meant for Walcott, was instead taken across goal by the challenge of Caner Erkin and into the path of Ramsey, who snapped up the chance with a low finish from 12 yards.
Arsenal looked set to get a second before half time. Santi Cazorla was sparkling as he dribbled into the box and had a shot deflected wide before setting up Nacho Monreal to cross for Giroud, who should have done better than fire wide at the near post.
Five minutes before the break, Fenerbahce enjoyed their best spell of the entire tie. Unsurprisingly, Emenike was involved in the clearest opening. The striker turned Sagna too easily on the left touchline to give a clear run into the box, but Szczesny did well to turn a strong shot onto his near post.
Still, the result had long since been put beyond any doubt and the second half was predictably played out at almost testimonial pace.
Cazorla again brought flickers of excitement to the action. A fine save from Volkan was the only thing that prevented the gifted Spaniard’s blistering low drive from finding the far corner of the net. Walcott too roused the crowd from their slumber with a curling free-kick from the angle that deceived Volkan and crashed flush onto the crossbar.
But it was Ramsey that again brought the Emirates crowd to their feet. With 18 minutes remaining a neat move led to a cross from Wilshere cross that was caressed delightfully into the net on the volley by the side-foot of the Welsh midfielder.
Safely in among the Champions League elite for the 16th straight season, the quest will now continue to make signings that can once again make Arsenal contenders for Europe’s biggest prize rather than mere also-rans.