Soccer

Arsenal respond to criticism with hammering of Fenerbahce

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The Canadian Press
8/21/2013 8:25:15 PM
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ISTANBUL, Turkey -- 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 off-season 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.

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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.

The right back was only booked for elbowing Christian Benteke in the head, and then sent Frank Lampard's free kick into the net in the 73rd minute.

"This is English football, for some reason the world loves it more than any other league -- one thing is (because of) a real aggression I would call it," Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said. "Another thing is duels that are handled in a certain way and I think the referee did very well.

Chelsea fortuitously went in front after seven minutes when the ball inadvertently bounced off Antonio Luna into his own net.

Although Chelsea faded, allowing Benteke to level in first-half stoppage time, Villa couldn't find the net again and replicate its surprise victory at Arsenal on Saturday.

Instead, Ivanovic ensured Mourinho's second spell at Stamford Bridge has started with back-to-back league wins.

"A draw wouldn't have been an unfair result -- they fought a lot," Mourinho said. "They created great difficulties."

It was the only Premier League game played Wednesday after the match was moved forward by almost two weeks because of Europa League winner Chelsea's UEFA Supercup match against Champions League winner Bayern Munich.

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MADRID (AP) -- Brazilian recruit Neymar scored his first goal for Barcelona to secure a 1-1 draw at Atletico Madrid on Wednesday after Lionel Messi left the field injured in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup.

Atletico's David Villa enjoyed the perfect start against his former club by scoring the opening goal in the 12th minute. Villa left Barcelona following the arrival of Neymar in the off-season.

Messi was replaced at halftime with a left thigh problem and Neymar went on in the 59th. Just seven minutes later, he headed in the equalizer from a pass by Dani Alves.

The 21-year-old Neymar joined the Spanish champions from Brazilian club Santos for 57 million euros in June, the eighth most expensive signing in football history.

And after two appearances, both as a substitute as he recovers from anemia, he has his first goal.

The return leg will be played at Barcelona's Camp Nou next Wednesday after this weekend's league fixtures.

Arsenal celebrates (Photo: Canadian Press)

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(Photo: Canadian Press)
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