Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger admitted a great weight has been lifted from his players’ shoulders after they confirmed their place in the UEFA Champions League group stages with a 1-0 win over Besiktas.
Without Olivier Giroud, Wenger used Alexis Sanchez as his lone striker and he delivered when it mattered as he confirmed the Gunners’ place in the group stages for the 17th consecutive season.
The Chile international fired Arsenal in front in the first-half but the FA Cup holders were made to work hard for their win.
Besiktas had two penalty claims turned down on Wednesday night and Arsenal had to hold on for the last 15 minutes.
New summer signing Mathieu Debuchy was sent off for a second bookable offence and while Wenger was angry at the decision he was delighted with his team’s qualification once again.
“Not qualifying is unthinkable until it happens and then everyone thinks ‘why did it happen’,” he told Sky Sports.
“It is a weight off our shoulders now because we can focus on the Premier League, wait for the draw.
“We played against a good team and had to show a goof fighting spirit.
We feel we have done the job and we have a clear conscience.
“I thought it was very harsh because Debuchy played the ball and maybe with the anger from our side on the bench we saw he played the ball.
“The referee was on the other side.”