Arsenal stand firm as Sanchez earns Champions League spot
Chilean's first goal is worth £25m as he fires Gunners into group stages for 17th straight year
Arsenal 1 Besiktas 0 [Arsenal win 1-0 on aggregate]. It was tense, it was tight, but at the end of 90 nervous minutes Arsenal had qualified for the 17th season of Champions League football.
Only a goal from Alexis Sanchez, his first for the club, separated Arsenal and Besiktas over the two legs of the play-off and afterwards Arsene Wenger paid tribute to the Chilean striker whose goal seconds before half-time, will earn the Gunners, at the very least, an estimated £25m over the coming months. "He had a good game, not only on the technical side but on the fighting side," said the Arsenal manager. "He was mobile, dangerous and has shown as well he has great fighting spirit, qualities that will be very important in the Premier League."
It's just as well Sanchez has settled in at his new home since his arrival in the summer from Barcelona; much will expected of him in the coming months after it was confirmed that Olivier Giroud has indeed broken his tibia and won't be seen again until next year. With Theo Walcott still sidelined eight months after his knee injury against Tottenham, Arsenal are horribly thin up front and Wenger may well be forced into the transfer market between now and Monday if he wants to have a strikeforce capable of doing damage in the Champions League.
The draw for the group stage will be made this afternoon in Monaco and Arsenal's reward for beating Besiktas is to find themselves in the top pot. That will improve their chances of avoiding some of the big guns among the 32 qualifiers but they still could be drawn against the likes of PSG, Galatasaray and Roma.
Though Arsenal won't begin the tournament as strong favourites on the evidence of their struggles to break down Besiktas, there's a resilience to this new generation of Gunners that will stand them in good stead. It wasn't just Sanchez who showed spirit against the fired-up Turks; so too did Jack Wilshere, thriving in the absence of the suspended Aaron Ramsey, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and in particular Mathieu Debuchy.
The French defender was tireless in both defence and attack for the Gunners, but paid the price for his commitment with a red card after the volatile Portuguese referee handed him a harsh second yellow card 15 minutes from time. "There was no intention to make a bad foul or to stop the counter attack, and he won the ball," Wenger complained later, though the Arsenal manager must have been relieved that Pedro Proenca waved away two Besiktas penalty claims in the first half that on another day might well have been given.
Besiktas coach Slaven Bilic, forced to watch from the stands after being dismissed from the dugout in the first leg, was furious that his side weren't awarded a penalty, and he was none too pleased when Demba Ba missed a golden opportunity to snatch the tie two minutes from time. A floated ball from the right caught the Arsenal defence off guard but the former Chelsea striker failed to head the ball home from point-blank range, surely one of the more costliest misses of his career.
As a result it's Arsenal's name in the hat today thanks to Sanchez's strike and the squad spirit. "I feel we produced a performance we wanted on the technical side, on the tactical side and on the mental side," reflected Wenger. "We would have liked to have won the game earlier because it would have made it a lot easier but we wanted to qualify and we did it against a very good team."