Easy for Arsenal as Schalke edge into group stage
PARIS - Agence France-Presse
Arsenal's French striker Olivier Giroud (L) vies with Fenerbahce's Turkish defender Egemen Korkmaz (R) during the UEFA Champions League Play-Off second leg football match at The Emirates Stadium in north London on August 27, 2013. Arsenal won the first leg 3-0 in Turkey. AFP photoArsenal made sure of a 16th consecutive appearance in the Champions League group stage on Tuesday, while German outfit Schalke joined them with a dramatic win in Greece.
The Gunners had more than one foot in Thursday's group-stage draw already after easing to a 3-0 win against Fenerbahce in Istanbul in last week's first leg, but they finished the job in style too, and once again Aaron Ramsey was the star of the show.
The Welshman netted in the first leg and scored both goals in the return at the Emirates Stadium, rolling the ball into an empty net in the 25th minute after Lukas Podolski and Theo Walcott combined to set him up.
Ramsey then got his second on the night in the 72nd minute with a superb first-time finish on the volley from a Kieran Gibbs assist.
That saw Arsenal win 2-0 on the night and progress 5-0 on aggregate, but the loss of Podolski to injury right at the start of the second half took some of the gloss off a fine evening's work for Arsene Wenger's side.
Semi-finalists in 2011, and knocked out in the last 16 last season, Schalke also returned to the group stage after getting the better of Greek club PAOK.
Coached by former Schalke boss Huub Stevens, PAOK held the upper hand in this tie after a 1-1 draw in the first leg in Germany, but some of their advantage was lost by the fact that the return at their own Stadio Toumbia was played behind closed doors.
Robbed of their passionate support, PAOK then lost their advantage in the tie when Atsuto Uchida squared for Adam Szalai to put Schalke ahead just before the interval.
The hosts turned up the pressure in the second half and got their reward when Stefanos Athanasiadis fired home, and Schalke were then reduced to 10 men when Jermaine Jones was shown a second yellow card just after the hour.
However, Julian Draxler put the Bundesliga club back in front, leaving PAOK - who were late replacements for banned Ukrainian club Metalist Kharkiv - needing to score twice to progress.
The veteran Kostas Katsouranis got one, but Draxler set up Szalai to clinch a 3-2 win on the night for Schalke, who progress 4-3 on aggregate.
Elsewhere, 1986 European champions Steaua Bucharest of Romania returned to the group stage for the first time since the 2008-09 season after sneaking past Legia Warsaw on away goals.
After the first leg ended in a 1-1 draw, early goals from Nicolae Stanciu and Federico Piovaccari effectively ended the tie as a contest. Legia came back to draw 2-2 on the night, but the 3-3 aggregate saw Steaua progress.
Swiss champions Basel enjoyed smoother progress, beating Bulgaria's Ludogorets Razgrad 2-0 for a 6-2 aggregate success. Fabian Frei and Philipp Degen got the goals for last season's Europa League semi-finalists.
Meanwhile, Austria Vienna became the first club from the country to reach the group stage since Rapid Vienna in 2005 with a 4-3 aggregate victory against Dinamo Zagreb.
Leading 2-0 from the first leg, the Austrians took an early lead on the night only for the Croats to score three, leaving them in the driving seat. However, a late Roman Kienast goal clinched the hosts' progress.
The remaining play-off ties will be played on Wednesday, including AC Milan against PSV Eindhoven, Real Sociedad against Lyon, and Celtic against Shakhter Karagandy of Kazakhstan, with the Scots looking to overturn a 2-0 first-leg deficit.