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Sanchez goal helps Arsenal

Friday, August 29, 2014

PARIS - A goal by Chilean star Alexis Sanchez saw Arsenal scrape into the Champions League group stages yesterday as they beat a plucky Turkish outfit Besiktas 1-0 in their playoff second-leg clash for a 1-0 aggregate victory.

Arsene Wenger's side managed to hold on despite being reduced to 10 men - like the first leg when Aaron Ramsey was red-carded - after Mathieu Debuchy was sent off for a second bookable offence in the second half.

"We produced the performance we wanted -- on the tactical side, on the technical side, and on the mental side," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

"We were at the level that was requested tonight against a good team, but we couldn't finish the game off and that made it nervous in the last 10 minutes when we were down to 10 men."

His Besiktas counterpart, the former Croatia national handler Slaven Bilic will have to content himself with the Europa League.

"Of course we are gutted, because we played good in both games and are close to qualifying for the Champions League against great opponents," Bilic told Sky Sports.

"Those couple of chances we had to score, but we didn't. Congratulations to Arsenal. They had the experience and quality up front when needed."

While Arsenal have regularly graced the group stages, and indeed the knockout phase, Spanish side Athletic Bilbao will experience something they haven't done in 16 years as a come from behind 3-1 win over Italian opponents Napoli gave them to a 4-2 aggregate win.

It ended the hopes of Napoli's Spanish boss Rafael Benitez of adding another Champions League title to the one he won with Liverpool in 2005 and leaves only two Italian representatives in the competition, champions Juventus and runners-up Roma.

Bilbao's victory highlights how the balance of power in European club football has shifted as Italy's strength has waned.

There will be four Spanish sides in the group stages with holders Real Madrid, beaten finalists Atletico Madrid and Barcelona being the others.

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