ISTANBUL (AP) — Arsenal answered its early season critics with a 3-0 victory at Fenerbahce in the first leg of their Champions League playoff Wednesday.
Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud scored in the second half in front of a noisy crowd in Istanbul, plus hostile media and Gunners fans at home after an offseason of failed transfer deals for the cash-rich club.
Under-fire manager Arsene Wenger now looks all but certain to lead his team into the Champions League group stage for the 16th straight season after the return match next Tuesday. The winners of the playoff matches earn a spot in the lucrative 32-team group stage.
"We could have been a little bit shaky after what happened on Saturday," said Wenger, whose team lost 3-1 at home to Aston Villa in the Premier League opener. "So for us it was very important to start on the front foot. That was vital tonight for us and we did it well."
Away teams dominated Wednesday's five playoff matches, as Swiss champion Basel won 4-2 in Bulgaria against Ludogorets Razgrad and Austria Vienna won 2-0 at Dinamo Zagreb.
Schalke drew 1-1 at home to PAOK Thessaloniki and it was also 1-1 between Steaua Bucharest and Legia Warsaw. All the return legs are played next week.
Arsenal's neat passing impressed from the start, although Giroud and Ramsey spurned the team's only half-chances before the break. The visitors lost defender Laurent Koscielny to a nasty-looking kick in the face from Fenerbahce forward Pierre Webo, who was booked.
Koscielny was left bleeding from an open wound and was taken to a hospital for a checkup after the match.
"It's very deep, it's very, very deep," Wenger said of Koscielny's wound.
Yet Wenger's players surged on and defender Gibbs struck in the 51st when connecting with Theo Walcott's slick pass across the goalmouth.
Ramsey's 22-yard shot in the 64th slipped under Fenerbahce goalkeeper Volkan Demirel's diving grasp, and Walcott earned a penalty by drawing a foul from defender Michal Kadlec.
Giroud fired the 77th-minute spot kick decisively to Demirel's right, and Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny preserved the clean sheet with excellent late saves.
LONDON (AP) — Branislav Ivanovic's second-half header gave Chelsea a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa on Wednesday, moments after he avoided a red card in a fiery second match of the Premier League season.
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