Arsène Wenger could savour the feeling of a catastrophe averted after his Arsenal team rallied in the second-half against Udinese to secure a place in the Champions League group phase for the 14th season in succession.

The manager admitted that "relief" was also prominent among his emotions as Arsenal needed a 59th-minute penalty save from Wojciech Szczesny to break the resistance of the Italian team. After the problems and the criticisms of the summer and the early season, Wenger could also send out a message of defiance. Arsenal's season is up and running. "I feel, of course, this will lift the pressure," he said. "There has been a little bit of pressure for Arsenal to play in the Champions League and with the players that have left, the pressure would have increased if we had lost. There's a strong attitude and spirit inside the team.

"We live in a society where everyone has an opinion on everything. I'm like someone who flies a plane for 30 years and I have to accept someone can come into the cockpit and fly it better than I do. But that's our job and we have to accept it. I would like to say that the club is in, overall, a very strong position because for 14 years on trot we play in the Champions League, we have a new stadium, a fantastic training ground, a very strong financial situation and a very strong team. Sometimes you have to take a distance from the catastrophes people have predicted."

Wenger acknowledged that Szczesny's penalty save was decisive. Had Antonio Di Natale's shot gone in, it would have made the score 2-2 on aggregate. "That was the turning point, it kept us qualified and you could see that mentally it had an impact on Udinese's belief and they were not the same team afterwards," Wenger said. "Of course I am relieved. It was a massive game for us. Overall, I feel we responded in a very positive way, even when we were 1-0 down. It showed that under pressure this team can respond with football, remain calm and composed, and try to play like we can."