Arsenal secured a place in the last 16 of the Europa League with a resounding victory over BATE Borisov at the Emirates Stadium as Mesut Ozil returned to the starting line-up.
The Gunners went into the second leg needing to turn the tie around following a surprise 1-0 defeat in Belarus last week and Unai Emery’s side completed the comeback in style with a comfortable 3-0 win.
Given the game kicked off at 5:55pm, there was a sizeable crowd in place to cheer Arsenal into the next round courtesy of a fourth-minute Zakhar Volkov own goal and headers from defensive duo Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
Emery opted to recall Ozil after leaving him at home for the first leg and having told the German he needs to overcome minor injuries and bouts of illness to hold down a regular place in his side.
The highest-paid player in the club’s history responded with a good display, linking up play well and showing flashes of his true ability which so often goes missing in games.
Alex Iwobi tested Denis Scherbitski in the early exchanges as he collected a Stephan Lichtsteiner cross before firing into the gloves of the BATE goalkeeper.
Moments later and Arsenal were ahead, Volkov inadvertently sending a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang centre past Scherbitski to give the hosts a crucial early goal to level the tie on aggregate.
The Gunners had a decent chance to move ahead for the first time in the two legs but Henrikh Mkhitaryan, guilty of spurning a superb early opportunity in Belarus, blazed high and wide from just inside the penalty area.
If Arsenal thought they were going to coast into the draw for the round of 16, they were given a quick awakening as the Belarusian champions created two goalscoring chances in a matter of minutes.
Maksim Skavysh fired wide after beating Nacho Monreal before Stanislav Dragun – the match-winner in Borisov – saw a goal-bound strike cleared off the line by Lichtsteiner.
A long-range Granit Xhaka drive had to be punched behind by Scherbitski before Aubameyang headed onto the roof of the net as Arsenal looked to regain their earlier cutting edge.
Ozil had largely kept things simple following his return to the side but he volleyed over as the half wore on – although the lead would still be doubled before the interval.
Mustafi, so often criticised for his defending, was picked out perfectly by Xhaka from a corner and the German made no mistake in powering his header into the back of the net.
A goal for BATE would still have been enough to see them advance but Arsenal were soon in search of a third goal to take complete control of the tie – Matteo Guendouzi curling a strike inches wide after the restart.
BATE half-threatened on occasion but it was Scherbitski who was busier than counter-part Petr Cech, pushing away an Iwobi effort as Emery’s men searched for a third.
An injury to captain Laurent Koscielny soured the night for Arsenal as he limped off to be replaced by fit-again Sokratis, Ozil taking the armband in the process.
Sokratis had been on the field fewer than four minutes when he headed in the third, rising at the back-post to head into an empty net after Scherbitski had come off his line and got nowhere near another Xhaka corner.
Ozil should have sealed a good display with a goal of his own but fluffed his lines with the ball fell to him seven yards from goal. Arsenal saw the game out professionally, Denis Suarez coming off the bench to make his home debut, and will head into Friday’s draw looking to again avoid the bigger clubs.
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Aymeric Laporte felt Manchester City demonstrated their battling qualities as they overcame controversy to snatch a dramatic Champions League victory away to Schalke.
Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling struck in the last five minutes as City recovered from a VAR row and a contentious red card to claim a dramatic 3-2 win in the first leg of their last-16 tie at the Veltins Arena.
“Always we keep fighting until the end,” said defender Laporte.
“The team have the quality to make these kind of things (happen). We are very happy that we won this game. I think it was difficult. It is not easy playing with 10 guys in the pitch against 11.
“Now we have to be focused on the next game and the next one, always keep improving and win these kind of games.”
City found the going unexpectedly tough against a side sitting 14th in the Bundesliga despite dominating early on and taking an 18th-minute lead through Sergio Aguero.
Schalke controversially drew level with the first of two penalties in the space of seven minutes late in the first half, awarded after a lengthy stoppage for a VAR review.
The referee initially gave a corner after the ball deflected off Nicolas Otamendi but Schalke’s claims of handball were eventually backed up by the VAR after a confusing delay of more than three minutes.
There was no clarity on whether Otamendi had handled deliberately and, adding to the farce, the referee could not review the incident himself as the pitchside monitor was broken.
Nabil Bentaleb scored from the spot, and did so again after a foul by Fernandinho moments later. City’s night took a turn for the worse after Otamendi – harshly booked over the penalty incident – was sent off for a second yellow card.
A stunning free-kick from Sane against his former club rescued the situation and Sterling grabbed the winner in the last minute.
City manager Pep Guardiola later played down the VAR rumpus and Laporte was also measured in his response.
He said: “I think it is difficult for the referees. It was bad for us but maybe some day it will be good for us.
“I think (Otamendi) had the hand close to the chest. I don’t know but I think the referee can say it is a penalty. I hope in the next game it is going to be better for us with the VAR.”
City now move on to the Carabao Cup final at Wembley on Sunday hoping to win the first part of what could be a quadruple trophy haul.
City thrashed the London outfit 6-0 when they met at the Etihad Stadium earlier this month but midfielder Bernardo Silva says that counts for little now.
He said: “It is a very difficult game, despite the last result, against one of the best sides in the world.
“We are not expecting an easy game and of course we want to win the first trophy of the season.”
A defiant Maurizio Sarri has told Chelsea supporters he will not compromise on his footballing principles, despite his precarious position as head coach.
The 60-year-old Italian remains committed to his possession-based 4-3-3 system, with Jorginho as central playmaker, despite an increasingly sceptical fan base voicing their derision and a series of humiliating results.
“The system is a false problem. I want to see football in another way,” Sarri said.
A 4-0 loss at Bournemouth was followed by a 6-0 defeat to Manchester City which was Chelsea’s worst in 28 years and owner Roman Abramovich is not renowned for his patience.
The reaction of the supporters in Monday’s FA Cup loss to Manchester United, when home fans joined the visitors’ chants of “you’re getting sacked in the morning” will have caught the attention of the Chelsea hierarchy.
The Blues face City in Sunday’s Carabao Cup final, but first meet Sweden’s Malmo on Thursday night in the Europa League last-32 second leg. Sarri’s side hold a 2-1 first-leg advantage.
Results against Malmo, City, and – if he survives that long – Tottenham in the Premier League on February 27 could determine Sarri’s future.
Asked if he can change the fans’ views, Sarri added: “We need to win three, four matches in a row. It’s the only solution.
“I can understand very well the frustration of our fans because they are used to winning. Now we are in trouble.
“Of course in this moment it’s very difficult to think we’re able to win three, four matches in a row.
“As you know very well in football everything can change in one day. I think we need first of all a good performance, a good result and with more confidence, we are able to do anything.”
Sarri says he has not spoken to Abramovich or director Marina Granovskaia this week.
He added: “I have to think that I will be the manager of Chelsea for a long time, otherwise I cannot work.
“I am not sure (if I will be here for a long time), but I have to think this. I have to work and I want to work with a long-range target.”
Chelsea’s congested fixture calendar makes finding solutions difficult for Sarri, who has introduced training on a matchday this season.
Defender Antonio Rudiger downplayed the physical effects of the additional sessions while admitting to the psychological challenge.
Rudiger said: “It’s not like we are doing box to box runs. It’s not physical. It’s just the tactical things he likes to do.
“It’s the same if you sit in the school the whole time listening to someone. Of course, sometimes, it gets mental, but at the end of the day you have to do your job.”
Full-back Davide Zappacosta is a doubt with illness, winger Pedro with a stomach problem and goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga a hamstring injury which means he could miss out at Wembley, as well as on Thursday.