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Arsenal, Napoli held in play-offs

Berne: Besiktas hit the bar straight from kickoff as they were held 0-0 at home by Arsenal in Tuesday’s Champions League play-offs while a superb Gonzalo Higuain goal rescued Napoli in a 1-1 draw with visitors Athletic Bilbao.

Jonatan Soriano struck the woodwork three times and scored in Salzburg’s 2-1 win over visiting Malmo, Bayer Leverkusen won 3-2 at FC Copenhagen and a late goal gave Steaua Bucharest a 1-0 home win over Ludogorets Razgrad in the other first leg ties.

Arsenal, aiming to reach the group stage for the 17th season in a row, will be happy to have survived their tricky trip to Istanbul, especially after Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey was sent off in the 80th minute for a second bookable offence.

Beskitas’s Senegal forward Demba Ba, who scored a hat-trick in the previous round against Feyenoord, took a shot at goal straight from kickoff and his effort, aided by the swirling wind, forced Wojciech Szczesny to push the ball on to the bar.

The Polish ’keeper also turned away Ba’s fierce left-footed volley after 10 minutes as Arsenal survived a difficult opening.

Despite losing Ramsey, Arsenal nearly grabbed the winner when Tolga Zengin tipped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s curling effort on to the post.

“It was a very good game played with a good pace, a frenetic pace from the first to the last minute,” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said. “In the end, we didn’t lose the game and hopefully we can make it at home.”

Serie A was left in danger of having only two teams in the group stage after Napoli, playing their first competitive match of the season, failed to beat Bilbao.

Iker Muniain side-footed the visitors ahead four minutes before halftime as Napoli struggled to find their rhythm.

But the Italian side’s Argentina forward Higuain levelled in the 68th minute when he brilliantly pulled down a pass and, despite being surrounded by three defenders, managed to make space and score with a low shot into the far corner. (Reuters)