Arsenal are through to the UEFA Champions League group stage for the 17th straight season following a tense 1-0 victory over Besiktas on Wednesday night in the second leg of their play-off at the Emirates Stadium in London.
The first leg finished scoreless last week in Turkey to set up Wednesday's decisive second leg, and with nerves running high, Alexis Sanchez scored the only goal—his first for Arsenal—in first-half stoppage time to send the Gunners through.
But it was far from easy for Arsene Wenger's side, who played the final 15 minutes with 10 men following Mathieu Debuchy's dismissal for a second yellow card. Besiktas made their hosts work, laying siege to Arsenal's goal in the closing stages and coming close through Demba Ba in the 89th minute.
After holding their nerve, however, Arsenal's reward is a place in Thursday's Champions League draw, which will see 32 teams placed in eight groups of four. The Gunners will be placed in Pot 1, meaning they will avoid fellow top seeds such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the group stage.
With their Champions League status confirmed for another year, Arsenal can now return their focus to the league. After taking four points from their first two matches, the Gunners will play at promoted Leicester City on Sunday.
In addition, Arsenal could be busy in the coming days as the English transfer deadline approaches. With striker Olivier Giroud injured, the Gunners could be in the market for reinforcements.
Much like the first leg in Istanbul, Besiktas provided Arsenal with stiff resistance throughout the first half at the Emirates. The Gunners struggled to impose their will on the game for much of the opening 45 minutes before finally taking the lead just before half-time.
The hosts had a first sight of goal in the ninth minute, when Santi Cazorla picked up possession following a Besiktas giveaway. The Spaniard drew a foul outside the box, but the referee allowed Arsenal to play the advantage as Jack Wilshere picked up the ball, drove into the box and dragged a low shot wide of the far post.
A minute later, Arsenal had another half-chance when Besiktas goalkeeper Tolga Zengin misplaced a clearance into the path of Cazorla. With the goal unguarded, Cazorla chipped his shot well off target.
Arsenal's next chance came in the 24th minute as Sanchez curled a free-kick over the wall and straight at Zengin, who made an easy save. For the next several minutes, though, the hosts had to defend well to keep out Besiktas.
In the 34th minute, Debuchy—who had already received a yellow card—made a last-gasp tackle in his own box to dispossess Mustafa Pektemek. Seven minutes later, Besiktas had a penalty appeal turned down after Ramon Motta went to ground in the box. Wilshere had initially appeared to make contact with his tackle, but replays suggested there was no contact, only a slip by Pektemek.
With half-time fast approaching, Arsenal finally scored the tie's first goal in the first minute of stoppage time. The chance came about after Besiktas failed to fully clear a Debuchy cross, with Wilshere taking possession outside the box. Wilshere tried to play a one-two with Mesut Ozil, but instead the ball strayed into the path of Sanchez, who finished the first time with a low shot.
Leading by a goal at the break, Arsenal started the second half brightly in an attempt to seal the victory. Wilshere set up a good chance in the 52nd minute, passing cleverly to Sanchez, whose shot from close range was deflected off target.
Another chance came in the 60th minute, Cazorla curling a fine free-kick toward the back post from just outside the box on the left. Debuchy met the ball there but directed his powerful header into the side netting.
The hosts endured a nervous moment in the 64th minute, as Mathieu Flamini had a pass blocked into the path of Ba inside Arsenal's box. The Besiktas striker turned and shot into the side netting, with Laurent Koscielny applying pressure.
Arsenal should have doubled their lead in the 75th minute but instead found themselves down a man. First came the chance as Nacho Monreal picked out Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the back post with a fine cross from the left. The England national slipped behind his marker to set up what should have been a tap-in, but he placed his first-time shot too close to Zengin, who saved.
Within moments, Arsenal went down to 10 men.
As Besiktas broke forward at pace, Debuchy was called for a foul on Pektemek. Replays suggested the full-back made contact with the ball, but the referee showed Debuchy his second yellow card and subsequently sent him off.
The match then threatened to become a farce as Arsenal quickly substituted Ozil out of the match to strengthen their defence. Defender Calum Chambers replaced the German but received a booking of his own for entering the pitch without the referee's permission.
Arsenal then endured a nervy finish to the match as Besiktas piled on the pressure. The visitors' clearest chance came in the 89th minute as Necip Uysal played an inviting cross toward Arsenal's back post. Ba was lurking dangerously but was unable to stretch far enough to head the ball in.
After holding out for four minutes of nerve-racking stoppage time, Arsenal were finally through to the Champions League group stages. At the final whistle, Wenger's enthusiastic reaction told the story of just how difficult it had been for the Gunners to secure progress.
|Arsenal Player Ratings|
|Calum Chambers (for Ozil, 77')||N/A||6.2|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|
|Besiktas Player Ratings|
|Gokhan Tore (for Sahan, 63')||N/A||6.4|
|Necip Uysal (for Kavlak, 77')||N/A||6.1|
|Cenk Tosun (for Pekmetek, 87')||N/A||6.2|
|Ratings via WhoScored.com|