With the game poised at 2-0 from the first leg, both sides knew that the first goal in this encounter would be all important. If Celtic were to pull one back it may provide them with the momentum to go on to get the equaliser, but if Arsenal were to get the goal then it would all but kill the tie. In reality there was only ever going to be one winner.
Celtic remained unchanged from the side which beat St Johnstone 5-2 at the weekend meaning there was a start for new signing Marc-Antoine Fortune with Georgios Samaras having to settle for a place on the bench. Arsene Wenger made some key changes with a trip to Manchester United looming on the horizon and playing on the mind of the Gunners boss. Both Robin van Persie and Andrey Arshavin had to sit as Eduardo and Nicklas Bendtner started up front. Cesc Fabregas was out with a hamstring strain and Emmanuel Eboue came in for a start in a more advanced position on the right side.
The movement of the Arsenal front two was impressive from the off with Eduardo nearly putting the game out of sight on seven minutes, but he was unable to get his rebound attempt on target after a good save by Artur Boruc from Bendtner’s shot. It was the Brazilian-born Croat who was to provide the breakthrough and the game’s biggest talking point on 28 minutes. Following a run into the box, Eduardo went to ground easily as he rounded Celtic goalkeeper Boruc. Replays showed it was a clear dive. Referee Mejuto Gonzalez stunned Boruc and infuriated the travelling support by pointing to the spot. Eduardo was unphased by the chants of “cheat” , dusted himself off and sent Boruc the wrong way from 12 yards. Celtic did have the ball in the net six minutes before the break when Scott McDonald turned in Fortune’s cross but he had strayed just offside.
Arsenal doubled their lead on 53 minutes. Following a clever move involving Bendtner and Abou Diaby the ball broke to Eboue in the box who neatly found room and drilled his shot past Boruc. The cushion of the lead enabled Wenger to make some changes – youngsters Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshire came on and were joined by the more experienced Arshavin for the final 20 minutes. Ramsey fed Arshavin on the edge of the box, who swivelled and fired a low shot into the Celtic goal after 74 minutes. Celtic were able to grab a consolation goal as Massimo Donati’s left foot volley from an acute angle provided the best goal of the game with the last kick. But it was too little too late for the Scots, with the Bhoys having to settle for a place in this seasons Europa League. Celtic will have felt aggrieved by the manner of the tie’s decisive goal from Eduardo and it is a shame that a piece of gamesmanship proved so important, but there is no doubting the gulf in class between the two sides with Arsenal comfortable winners over both legs of the tie.
In the other UEFA Champions League qualifying fixtures there were wins for Apoel Nicosia and Olmpiacos. Fiorentina progressed on away goals after a draw in Florence with Sporting, and Stuttgart progressed on aggregate after a 0-0 home tie with Timisoara. Tuesday night’s fixtures saw Atletico Madrid, Debrecen, FC Zurich, and Maccabi Haifa all progressing through to the group stages of the Champions League.
Anderlecht 1-3 Lyon (agg 2-8)
Atletico Madrid 2-1 Panathinaikos (agg 5-3)
Debrecen 2-1 Levski Sofia (agg 4-2)
FC Zurich 2-1 FK Ventspils (agg 5-1)
Maccabi Haifa 3-0 SV Red Bull Salzburg (agg 5-1)
Apoel Nicosia 3-1 FC Copenhagen (agg 3-3)
Arsenal 3-1 Celtic (agg 5-1)
Fiorentina 1-1 Sporting 1 (agg 3-3, Fiorentina win on away goals)
Olympiacos 1-0 Tiraspol (agg 3-0)
VfB Stuttgart 0-0 Timisoara (agg 2-0)
Look out for A Different League’s LIVE draw at 17:45 CET (16:45 GMT) to discover the fates of Britain’s Champions League hopefuls.