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ISTANBUL (AFP) – Wales international Aaron Ramsey scored one goal and set up another to inspire Arsenal to a 3-0 thrashing of Fenerbahce in their Champions League first leg play-off on Wednesday.
The North London club now stand on the brink of a 17th straight qualification for the lucrative pool stages after a dreadful start to their Premier League campaign with defeat to Aston Villa.
A potential banana skin in the Turkish capital instead ended up as a smooth ride for the 2006 finalists as Aaron Gibbs and Oliver Giroud with a late penalty joined Ramsey on the scoresheet.
The breakthrough after a dull opening half arrived in the 51st minute when Ramsey played in Theo Walcott down the right wing and the winger's cross was allowed to reach Gibbs who crashed the ball into the roof of the net.
Arsenal were trying to bounce back from a disappointing debut to their domestic season when they crashed 3-1 at home to Villa and endured the wrath of their fans who are growing increasingly impatient with the club's lack of activity in the transfer market.
Ramsey then scored a fortunate second goal with 24 minutes left when Fenerbahce 'keeper Volkan Demirel inexplicably allowed a routine shot from outside the box slip under his hands for a mistake that will haunt him for the rest of his career.
Giroud then planted a confident penalty in the top left hand corner after Michal Kadlec brought down Walcott on 77 minutes that has virtually put the tie beyond doubt.
The 'Gunners' have a proud record of having qualified for the group stages of every Champions League competition since 1998 but they laboured during a lacklustre first half that featured no goals and few chances.
Fenerbahce meanwhile were looking to reach the pool stages despite a potential ban looming over them for match fixing that has gone to appeal and will be decided on the eve of the draw.
The odds were stacked against them having beaten English opposition only once in European Cup history dating back to 1969 when they eliminated Manchester City 2-1 on aggregate.
The Istanbul club rarely threatened the Arsenal goal throughout the match and Arsene Wenger's team were able to take a firm stranglehold on the tie with three unanswered second half goals that will silence the critics at least temporarily.
The second leg is set for next Tuesday at the Emirates Stadium.