Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger remains confident his men can finish the job and qualify for the Champions League after battling to a goalless draw against Besiktas in Istanbul, where midfielder Aaron Ramsey was sent off.
The Gunners were stretched by Slaven Bilic’s well-drilled outfit in the first leg of their play-off at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium, where the hosts almost took the lead right from kick-off through a long-range effort by former Chelsea striker Demba Ba which hit the crossbar.
However, crucially Arsenal held out and but for some poor finishing by Olivier Giroud could have netted a crucial away goal themselves, with substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain seeing his shot touched onto the post in the closing stages.
Ramsey – who scored a stoppage-time winner against Crystal Palace on the opening day of the new Barclays Premier League season – was dismissed for a second yellow card with 10 minutes left when he was ruled to have pulled back former Arsenal midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.
Arsenal, though, will welcome back German World Cup winning trio Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski ahead of next week’s second leg at the Emirates Stadium, when they will be out to secure a 17th successive campaign in the lucrative group stages of Europe’s elite club competition.
“We always want to win, but Besiktas could have won the game, and we could have won the game as well. Maybe a draw is a fair result because both teams had chances to win,” said Wenger, who confirmed he reported to UEFA than an object had been thrown at him as he left the pitch at full-time.
“We know the second leg will be certainly tight again, but we play at home, so the task is clear for us – we want to win.”
Despite leaving Istanbul with a positive result, Wenger was less than impressed by the overall performance of Serbian referee Milorad Mazic, who sent Besiktas boss Bilic to the stands just before full-time.
The Arsenal boss added: “Neither the first nor the second yellow card was deserved for Aaron Ramsey. When you see some of the fouls that have been made tonight and we go home with Ramsey (given) a red card, it is a bit unbelievable.
“In the second half the performance of the referee was very bad.
“Ramsey’s second yellow card, I cannot see where that comes from, it was a huge decision.
“I felt just a lot was wrong in the second half but, overall, it was a difficult game maybe to referee as well because everybody did fight for every ball, so maybe it was not easy for the referee as well.”
Nevertheless, Wenger was happy enough to have seen his side leave undefeated, if counting the loss of captain Mikel Arteta to an ankle injury.
“Besiktas played with 100 per cent pace in the game and did fight for every single ball, and it was quick. We needed a great level of concentration,” he said.
Bilic, meanwhile, hopes he will be able to lead his side at the Emirates Stadium, having apologised for his indiscretion.
The Croatian former West Ham and Everton defender said: “If that was a reason, many coaches would be missing from the dug-out.
“I have apologised. I made a mistake. Maybe I overreacted in that situation when he stopped the game we were in a good position, two against one.”
Bilic believes his men can lift themselves for a big performance next week.
“We are going to London not to go shopping in Harrods, but to try to fulfil some would say our dream, I would say our task, our plan,” he said.