Arsenal, aiming for a 16th successive group stage appearance, outclassed Fenerbahce 3-0 in Istanbul to take control of their Champions League playoff tie as the five home teams failed to muster a win between them in Wednesday’s first-leg matches.
Schalke 04 were held 1-1 at home by Greek side PAOK, Egyptian 21-year-old Mohamed Salah scored twice to lead Basel to a 4-2 win at Ludogorets Razgad and Austria Vienna, who have never reached the group stage, won 2-0 against 10-man Dinamo Zagreb.
Dinamo had substitute Ante Rukavina sent off by referee Howard Webb for a dangerous challenge on an opponent less than one minute after coming on to the field.
Steaua Bucharest, the only former champions in action on Wednesday, were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Legia Warsaw.
Arsenal traveled to Turkey under a cloud and with questions over manager Arsene Wenger’s lack of activity in the transfer market after opening their Premier League campaign with a 3-1 home defeat to Aston Villa last Saturday.
However, the English side, who won 5-2 on a previous visit five years ago, again proved far too strong for a poor Fenerbahce squad and although they had nothing to show for their dominance in the first half, the goals flowed after the break.
Kieran Gibbs turned in Theo Walcott’s low cross in the 51st minute and Aaron Ramsey scored with a long-range shot that eluded ’keeper Volkan Demiral, before Oliver Giroud completed the scoring with a penalty.
PAOK manager Huub Stevens saw his side fall behind to a first-half goal from Peru striker Jefferson Farfan as he returned to Schalke, where he had two stints in charge, the second ending in December last year.
However, having survived a torrid end to the first half, the Greek side leveled with Miroslav Stoch’s curling shot in the 73rd minute.
Nevertheless, PAOK still have a tough task in their home leg, which is to be played behind closed doors following crowd trouble against Rapid Vienna a year ago.
“It is a pity that it will be without fans because football should be played for the fans. Schalke remain the favorites,” Stevens, aiming to lead PAOK to the group stage for the first time, told reporters.
Basel went ahead in Bulgaria as Salah ran on to Fabian Frei’s pass and drilled the ball past Vladislav Stoyanov.
The Bulgarians turned the tables as Brazilian Marcelinho and Ivan Stoyanov scored either side of halftime, only for Basel — Swiss champions for the past four seasons — to rally impressively.
Salah equalized with another deft finish in the 59th minute before Ivorian Giovanni Sio, signed by Basel last Saturday, turned in Valentin Stocker’s flick and Fabian Schaer converted a penalty.
Austria Vienna boosted their hopes of reaching the group stage for the first time with a smash-and-grab in Zagreb.
The Croatian champions dominated the first half, but Marin Leovac fired Austria ahead with a left-footed drive from a narrow angle in the 68th minute and Marko Stankovic’s rasping shot from long range put them in a commanding position.
“We played very well overall and, having had a bit of luck in the first half, we took our chances in the second, but we can take nothing for granted,” Vienna manager Nenad Bjelica told Croatian television.
In Bucharest, Federico Piovaccari gave 1986 European champions Steaua a first-half lead, but Legia Warsaw, whose only previous group-stage appearance was in the 1995-1996 season, hit back when Jakub Kosecki swept in a cross early in the second half.